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…

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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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