The Aristokat
Fairlady|December 2017

Kat van Duinen has made a name for herself in the world of luxury goods. Her brand provides discerning lovers of luxe with fine handbags and ready-to-wear collections that express the African spirit through a minimalist aesthetic.

Shireen Fisher

I just completely fell in love with this country,’ says Kat, who visited for the first time in 2000 and moved here permanently in 2006. ‘South Africans tend to take the light for granted; in Europe one can never experience the same brightness, even on the most beautiful summer’s day.

‘The lifestyle in Cape Town is so different; South Africans seem to smile even though many of them have no reason to. Europeans really guard their privacy and avoid small talk – perhaps due to the fact that the cities are so densely populated.’

Kat has a background in PR and experience as a diamond grader, but becoming a fashion designer is something she feels was her destiny. Born into the last generation of communist Poland, she comes from an era where making things was a natural extension of how people lived, having had to make everything themselves.

‘I grew up with custom-made clothes and limited access to mainstream luxury garments and accessories,’ she says. ‘It’s certainly a different reality to what my children will ever know. Growing up in a country where private property was non-existent is very difficult to explain to anyone who is not familiar with the concept.

‘I was an only child. Growing up without the internet and having to occupy myself in creative ways really formed me as a person. So it was only natural that I would be attracted to the arts and to creating things.’

Kat found inspiration in fashion magazines, whenever she could get her hands on them. ‘We were resourceful! You would hear stories of someone swapping their post card collection for a much-desired pair of Levi jeans.

‘It’s difficult to explain to people who grew up in a capitalist country, but I think South Africans under stand, because there was the same isolation during apartheid, where you really had to be resourceful in order to be well dressed or have beautiful books or the latest copy of Vogue. I’m grateful for that experience, because I never took anything for granted.’

Kat says that when she started out, she didn’t have a clear idea of where the business was going, being in a country where everything was different to what she’d known in Europe, including the culture and the way people dressed.

It wasn’t just the market that was different – the manufacturing sector was too, which made Kat’s entry into the South African fashion market far from easy. She is quite open about her difficulties, which is refreshing in an industry where many emphasise the glitz and glamour rather than the sheer hard work it takes to succeed.

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