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Gert Johan Coetzee on Dressing Oprah: ‘Instagram is King!’

Do it for the 'gram

When Oprah took to the stage at the Global Citizen Festival this weekend to deliver the events keynote address, she was dressed in a flowing, sun-yellow, hand-beaded silk kaftan.

Her familiar and significant voice echoed around the full stadium as, in her signature statement style, she told concert-goers‘"If you do even one small thing every day, you’ll be building your own legacy’. Dressed in a look that was ‘constructed from draped silk in a rich yellow, with a waistband decorated in traditional African hand-beading and Swarovski crystals’, she was powerfully and silently contributing to the legacy of one of our own designers, Gert Johan Coetzee.

In choosing to wear his designs, Oprah joins Beyoncé, who selected a shimmering emerald look as the closing outfit for her performance – a collaboration between Enhle Mbali’s ManualRossa and Quiteria & George. 

There is great meaning behind both of these global powerhouses choosing to wear looks created by local designers. Fashion matters, as the right look on the right person in the right moment can launch careers, support industries, trigger multiple orders and critical conversations. Fashion can make vital statements, taking it beyond material-meeting-body. What we wear is a richly-layered site of symbolism, meaning and politics – whether overtly stated or quietly woven into our threads. 

ELLE South Africa spoke to Gert Johan Coetzee to find out how he came to dress the Queen of Talk (and everything, really), and get his advice for aspiring designers.

ELLE SA: You're having a great week

Gert: I am, I'm having a great life! (both laugh)

 

ELLE SA: So tell me, how did this all happen? 

Gert: Oh it was so fantastic. You know Instagram is king and Oprah's stylist actually contacted us on Instagram and said ‘Ms Winfrey would really like to wear one of your garments to the Global Citizen concert, and Oprah would like to call you’. I was of course blown away and that was of course unbelievable. It was so exciting when she called me and said 'Hey Gert, this is Oprah'. It was actually the girls at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls (OWLAG) who suggested me. I have been doing work with the Oprah girls for a couple of years. As you know Andrea, one of their ex-matriculants from the Oprah Winfrey school was, or is, one of the recipients of my bursary programme – so I've been having a relationship with the Oprah Winfrey School for many years.

ELLE SA: How did you meet, and when did you meet her?

 Gert: She came to my studio to come for fittings, so we did a couple of options. She wore the kaftan for (the) stage.

 

ELLE SA: Why did you decide on the colour yellow for her?

Gert: Yellow, for me, always represents hope - and I think that's really what the concert was about, in essence. Hope is such a motivator for people; that colour was appropriate

ELLE SA: After dressing Oprah, what's next for you? 

Gert: We just came back from Nigeria Fashion Week, and that was absolutely electric. We had a great time and we made some great connections and friends there, so there's definitely lots of things in the pipeline for next year, and that's quite exciting. 

 

ELLE SA: What advice would you give for young designers who want to follow in your footsteps?

Gert: Be passionate. Be passionate. Be passionate. I think that's actually the best advice that I could give, because the amount of drive and passion it takes to be a successful designer is much more than you think – focusing on positivity, focusing on your dreams and your passion and just really being a nice person. For me, I think having done all the stuff that I do for charity and with charity never comes as work, so you must always try and just help where you can, from the position that you are (in), and that always makes a difference.

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