Gert-Johan Coetzee on his new collection, dressing Lizzo and opening a showroom in the US – News24

Monday, 16 May
05 Apr
TV stars, models, beauty queens, influencers, musicians – he’s dressed them all, locally and internationally. 
He is the go-to designer to the stars. His showstopper gown worn by Nigerian star Toke Makinwa at the Bridgerton Affair made headlines across the continent.
This year fashion designer Gert-Johan Coetzee celebrates 12 years in the industry with and launched his Autumn/Winter range, which is a partnership between Zebra Square Gallery, distributors of Chopard in Hyde Park Corner..

The range is a collection of proudly African masterpieces with a touch of Western culture and his Afrikaans heritage.
Gert tells Drum that making the collection, he wanted to add a modern twist on African baroque. 
“I wanted to really showcase the next level following my previous collection. I took you all the way from Cape Town, all the way to Limpopo and the warmer parts of our country. It was inspired by wildlife and nature and just everything exotic and adding a modern twist on African baroque. It is my take on Africa. It is Africa with a twist and the secret to what’s been making me so successful internationally.”
Gert says he is all about creating garments that people can resonate with.
“I can take the Tsonga skirt (Xhibelane) or a Zulu beaded piece and add a twist to it and also honor my Afrikaans heritage,” he says.
“It creates a unique aesthetic that hasn’t been done in the world before.”
For his new range, he also used fuller-figured models, as he has done with his previous collaboration with Barbie.
“We don’t see fuller-figured models on the ramp and I am all about body positivity and inclusivity. I wanted every single person in the world to be able to see themselves on the runway. I think it is time to celebrate women and their imperfections,” he says.
“I get clients of all shapes and sizes. They sometimes say they don’t like their arms, boobs, this, or that. But it is what makes you uniquely you and that can’t be replaced. I am here to celebrate the best part of you and make it stand out and make you feel like a fashion superstar. The Barbie collection was all about inclusivity, not just body shapes and sizes but also different religious groups, races, sexuality, and it’s very important for everyone to feel seen and represented,” he adds.
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In the new series US reality show competition Watch Out for the Big Grrrls, pop superstar and advocate for body positivity, Lizzo wears a Gert-Johan Coetzee designer dress. The show debuted on Amazon Prime Video on 25 March and follows 13 plus-size women as they compete to become Lizzo’s dancers at the Bonnaroo music festival. 
“That experience was insane,” Gert says.
“I never thought I’d dress Lizzo or Oprah, which I have. It all started about October 2021. I received a message from Lizzo’s team asking for a custom gown, they asked, ‘would you be willing to do a custom piece for Lizzo?’ I thought, ‘you’re asking me, am I willing to breathe?’ Of course, I would want to. We started going back and forth with her stylist Jason Rembert and he was fabulous and we created the perfect colour. Originally her dress was supposed to be orange and we changed it to blue and it’s been a long but beautiful process.”
A post shared by Gert-Johan Coetzee (@gertjohancoetzee)
Gert says keeping quiet about the outfit and not sharing the good news was one of the hardest things he has had to do.

“I spent so many months dying to tell someone the great news. I didn’t get to meet her because it was all done during the lockdown and on the phone, skype, and zoom. It was exciting because, after that, there have been many international projects on the pipeline.” 
He says seeing his dreams unfold is unreal. 
“I have always wanted to be a designer that can dress women of the world and seeing that unfold daily is a dream come true.”
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He has previously dressed rapper Cardi B in a beaded gown and corset for her husband Offset’s birthday celebration in Atlanta after contacting her stylist Kollin Carter, who saw his work at the 2020 Kraal Couture collection. 
A post shared by Gert-Johan Coetzee (@gertjohancoetzee)
The entire gown was crafted over a week and the beaded skirt was entirely handmade. 

Gert has dressed powerful women such as Oprah Winfrey for the Global Citizen concert in 2018 and recently Laura Govan. He has also dressed the likes of Shudufadzo Musida, Bonang Matheba, Zozi Tunzi, Lerato Kganyago, Zodwa Mkandla, Minnie Dlamini, Nadia Nakai and most recently dressed Nigerian start Toke Makinwa, who walked the red carpet at the Bridgerton Affair in a green ball gown fit for royalty.
“I love working with Nadia Nakai, she is always open to playing around and experimenting. I love all the girls because they are all so different. Recently I had a lot of fun with Toke. We have a similar vision of what the final product should look like and she is willing to pull it off,” he says.
“At the Bridgerton event, what did to her is borderline woman abuse because the corset she wore was sinful and very tight and she was like ‘do it’. I love girls like that, who are just open to the aesthetic and to being transformed. Toke becomes a different character in the garments every weekend and she is open to fashion.”
A post shared by Gert-Johan Coetzee (@gertjohancoetzee)
Internationally, he hopes to work with artists Doja Cat and Megan The Stallion.

“That would be a dream come true and I know it will happen.”
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The last two years have been challenging for designers due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but Gert says he has not allowed the pandemic to put him in a dark space.
“Your challenges are what you want them to be. If you see something as a challenge that is what it will be. I see things as they are and it’s important for young designers to not look for excuses, no one is coming to help you or save you. You are the only person who can push you to get up. You need to see yourself as a creative but also as a businessman or woman,” he says.
“The pandemic has given me a beautiful body because I have been working out nonstop, but I have also stretched my creativity. I couldn’t fall back but needed to think of new ways of being creative. Rather than complaining, I allowed opportunities,” he says.
He has also invested his time in his mentorship program, grooming young designers through his bursary program. It has been running for nine years and every year he takes on two students. 
“Bursary programs usually don’t work because they lack mentorship programs. I lead mine by incorporating mentorship. I choose my two students who I see to have potential and talent and mentor them and make a diamond out of something that was less sparkly. I like to help. My assistant designer Christopher Gills comes from my program, and I have had so many success stories. The program is my pride and joy and mentoring someone is helping them to create a future whether they become the next Gert or not. It’s about making a change,” he says.
The bursary program opens this year again in August.
“But the big news, in the next week, the garments from this new collection will be going all the way to the US. I am opening up a showroom or headquarters in Los Angeles, so the clothes are available for US stars to use when they need them. When Cardi B asks for something or anyone else, I don’t take four days to ship it to them,” he says.
“The garments can be available immediately.” 
Gert has also started moving his smaller Linden studio to a bigger property in the North of Johannesburg.
“We are moving to a bigger and better studio in Bryanston, expanding to a much bigger space and growing, all in pursuit of the international dream.”
15 May
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