He had designs on famous women
Cape Town couturier Errol Arendz cannot keep up with the demand for his creations these days – but it wasn’t always this easy…
would go and meet them … and it would not take long for it to become clear opportunities were not there.
“One renowned designer, who I admired very much at the time, told me to go and work in a factory … and give them a call in eight years’ time!”
So Arendz moved to Paris, where he “studied a bit” and met various designers, before moving to London where he worked for a range of different designers.
“I stayed in Europe for two years but my real urge was to make it in South Africa.”
On his return, and still determined to find his place in Cape Town’s design world, Arendz metVicky Keeler at a dinner party. “She was my first client … I created a wardrobe for her home in the Seychelles. She loved my clothes and decided to help launch my career. She asked me whether I would be able to create 30 dresses in a month, so I did.”
The launch, held on her squash court in Constantia, was a huge success – and before he knew it, Arendz had attracted the attention of magazine doyenne Jane Raphaely, socialite and philanthropist Adele Searle, and Barbara Barnard, wife of renowned heart surgeon Chris Barnard. Barbara Barnard was working as a fashion model and had just been voted one of the most beautiful women in the world by renowned photographer and cousin to the Queen, Lord Litchfield.
Arendz’s next big break was when he was asked to design clothes for Barnard for a fashion show to launch hotel magnate Sol Kerzner’s Maharani Hotel in Durban. The launch featured as the cover story in Fair Lady magazine in 1978. “That dress made me famous,” Arendz recalls.
From then on, his career skyrocketed. “I was invited all over to show my clothes. It’s funny,” he muses. “The emphasis was always on the fact that I was coloured.
“Success like that was unique in those days. I was overwhelmed, but delighted as orders poured in.”
Some examples of the types of headlines relating to Arendz’s success were: “Coloured designer gets into orbit”, and “Bruinman se mode vir die Kaap se ryk wit vroue” (Coloured man’s fashions for the Cape’s rich white women).
He was described as “fashion’s whizz kid”, “fashion’s new darling”, and “the coloured designer who has had a meteoric rise in the world of haute couture”.
Dazed by his success and still in his 20s, Arendz set up a studio in Buitengracht Street. “I just had to get on with it. I was thriving on adrenalin, fear and anxiety.”
When Margaret Gardiner became Miss South Africa, Arendz was asked to make the ball gown for her to wear when she represented the country in the Miss World contest. “Then she won Miss World – in my ball gown!
“It was one success after the next. The orders were pouring in. I’d go to Windhoek, see my name on the billboards. Then Barbara and Adele started wearing my clothes regularly. Then it would be the Met. Then the front page of the Argus.
“Then another beauty queen would wear one of my dresses. Then she would win a contest. Then MPs started coming, then film stars, actresses and musicians … It was a whirlwind.”
Arendz became the first coloured designer to become member of the SA haute couture syndicate – and the awards kept coming. Among others, he won the Lifetime Achievement Coty Award, Designer of the Year award and the J&B Designer of the Year Award.
Not long after his name started hitting the headlines, Arendz employed his sister Gloria as an assistant in the shop. “She had qualified as a beauty therapist but could not find a job. While studying she had to use the back entrance to the college, because she was coloured, while the other students went in the front.
“She came in as my ‘finisher’, and then started doing the business side … but soon she started wanting more.
“She couldn’t cope with all the adulation I was receiving,” jokes Arendz, who is very close to his sister.
“So, I said to her, ‘the only thing I can do is make you the best dressed woman in SA’.”
The rest is history – and soon Gloria Arendz had herself become a brand name, as one of the country’s best dressed woman three times in succession.
These days, Gloria lives an “illustrious, glamorous” life in Switzerland.
“She left Cape Town about six years ago, and now she commutes to her various homes all over the world.
“I miss her. She is my blood – and she was an integral part of this business.
“She comes to Cape Town every few weeks – so we keep in close touch.”
Asked to name the highlights of his career, Arendz replies: “There have been so many… in fashion, you are only as good as your last creation. Every time a woman comes to me and her dress works, that’s a thrill.”
In his spare time, Arendz, who lives in Clifton, says: “I love being in my garden. … and I have always been obsessed with reading biographies, especially of successful people.”
Asked about any special plans or dreams for the future, Arendz replies: “I would like to keep on doing what I do. My work is fascinating.”
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