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The designer who ditched law and forensics for fashion

Fashion is freedom of personal expression, it’s about creativity, accentuating beauty, it’s about sexiness and it’s about showing off your personal power to the world.

Pretoria-based designer Gerrit Pienaar has been collaborating with women for three decades, underlining gorgeous at every stitch.

And whether it’s a matric dance, the Met or the July, his couture mesmerises, and customers say they feel like goddesses when they don his work.

And as all good stories go, Pienaar never intended to be a designer.

In conversation with Gerrit Pienaar

After studying law and then specialising in criminal forensics, he floated about for a couple of years until his folks turn off the cash-tap. It was then he started making clothes to earn a living.

“And six weeks after making my first garment I landed a job in the rag trade. I ended up as a designer for a fashion house,” he said.

Watershed moments

His marriage and subsequent divorce became watershed moments in his life. The latter, the impetus to start his own label and go it alone.

Pienaar never ended up practising law or forensics.

gerrit pienaar fashion claris
Black is back with a bang said designer Gerrit Pienaar. Picture Hein Kaiser

In conversation with Pienaar, he feels almost Warhol-like in his conviction, his passion and his relentless imagination that, at times, causes sentences to repunctuate and stop dead centre during a thought, after which he comfortably segues conversation to a new idea, a new feeling and direction.

Reluctant fashion visionary

Pienaar is an artist, a reluctant fashion visionary whose focus is on his work.

He shared an anecdote about a client who brought in a matric dance dress he designed for her over a decade before she returned.

She was getting married, and wanted him to replicate the dress, but spruced up in white, and wedding ready.

The fact that one of his garments followed the life and romance cycle of a client, and that she wanted to get married in one of his designs, custom created for her 10 years prior, touched him.

He’s that kind of person. His heart is in everything he does.

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Claris studio

The Gerrit Pienaar ‘Claris’ studio is located in Pretoria’s eastern suburbs and inside his space, hundreds of garments weigh heavily on rails.

There are evening gowns, incredibly sexy little black numbers and some head-turning daywear that will turn heads no matter where the wearer catwalks it to.

Pienaar said that trends come and go but the classics always remain evergreen.

Juxtaposed art

The more conservative side of a dress, which he considers art, and that is juxtaposed by some of the drama that he said South Africans love.

“Big sleeves, puffy shapes and many layers. It all creates drama, and you can almost say that it is a quintessential South African fashion statement. It never loses its flavour.”

Pienaar uses delicate fabrics like Armani satin to express classic designs in a modern, comfortable and sensual manner.

Accentuating sensuality and femininity

Contemporary couture, and Pienaar sees this trend lasting for quite some time, is all about accentuating sensuality.

He said: “Trashy sexy like the Kardashians gave us is a thing of the past. Now, it’s about femininity, about showing off hints of skin and not riding bareback on your own sexuality”.

“It’s about sensuality, about mystery and secrets”, Pienaar adds.

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Current trends

Sheer is still the uber fashion statement, he said and added:

“Going see-through is subtle, it is sensual and sexy and yet, it is classy, elegant and feminine. Layering it just enough to reveal the notion of a breast, the legs and thighs. That’s what its all about.”

Pantones, lilacs, Guava, cerise pinks and watermelons are all colours of high and late summer. Black, Pienaar said, has also made a significant post pandemic return across seasons, and he believes its here to stay.

After Covid-19 dressing up first meant covering up, and it was apparent at the Durban July and the Met, said Pienaar.

But for January’s Cape Town race and later, in Durban, he suggests that fashion will return to the outrageous, naughty and sexy.

The difference being that the focus will be on subtlety and femininity.

How to make a statement

Pienaar warns that while the outlandish is cool, the dress must never wear the woman. It must be the other way around.

He said: “If the dress makes a statement larger than your personality, do not wear it. It’s there to enhance who you are in the first place, it should reflect your character, and your inner being.”

Also, he added, showing off more skin could turn a giant blob of dress into something shapely.

“We must not be afraid to show a bit of ourselves, subtly and classily. A huge blob of fabric does not do that for anyone. It just remains what it is, a blob. Don’t hide behind the fabric.”



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