For years the Lloyd has been cultivating a healthy policy of “double me.” This means staff at the hotel don’t just work here but also have exciting projects they pursue outside of their day job - which we love to hear about. Every so often there is a presentation on one of the platforms from a double me. There was Maria who (at the time) was part of the housekeeping staff but also a blossoming fashion designer. There’s Kim who has been working at reception for 10 years but is also the creator of a handbag design collection sourcing fabrics and collaborators from China and Nepal.
And then there’s the ultimate double me, Piet Boogert, our General Manager. For more than twenty years Piet has been leading a purposeful double life. It started in July 1992 when he persuaded a group of hotels in Amsterdam (Piet is incredibly persuasive) to organize the biggest dinner the Dam Square has ever seen. The event coincided with The World AIDS Conference that had recently moved to Amsterdam. In a tent in front of the Royal Palace Piet and the newly formed team of the AmsterdamDiner Foundation successfully raised funds for the benefit of AIDS charities.
The event snowballed and two decades later it is seen as an important part of the social calendar of any person in Amsterdam with a heartbeat and a social conscience. De Telegraaf newspaper routinely covers the event. Former Olympic medalist-turned politician Erica Terpstra has become a key supporter. When I interviewed Piet about this he casually mentioned that at their peak the first dinners raised in the region of €800,000 each. Although the amount differs every year the benefit has made an impact in countries where non-governmental organisations such as Stop Aids Now! operate. One of those places is Ethiopia.
So it came as no surprise that one week in January Piet announced he was going to Ethiopia to see how the funds were been utilized. He packed with lightning speed and before we could say, “when will you be back?” he was en route to Addis Ababa. What he didn’t know was that three staff members at the Lloyd, Ethiopians by birth, were thrilled to see their General Manager travel to their home country and secretly arranged a welcome package for Piet on arrival in Addis. A gesture he cherishes as one of the highlights of his career.
Piet expertly scouted all the projects with the team from Stop Aids Now! He meticulously snapped pictures of the city, its colours, animals and performances and then merrily hopped back on a plane to return to work the next day. If we blinked we would have missed Piet. He’s that fast. But then maybe that’s one of the superpowers of a double me.
I start the interview with Laduma Ngxokolo (28) by asking him what he thinks of a quote from the late great South African singer Miriam Makeba:
"The most popular of all the Zulu kings, Shaka Zulu, was a great warrior and mind. The British often referred to him as the black Napoleon but I say Napoleon was a white Shaka."
There’s a small silence as Laduma tries to figure out the link I’m trying to make between Zulu warfare and his latest knitwear range. He responds with the expected level of reverent praise for the Zulu King before swiftly turning the focus to his own tribal heritage – the great Xhosa nation. After all, it is from traditional Xhosa cultural and tribal symbolism that Laduma draws most of his influence as a fashion designer.
Hailed by some as the “African Missoni” his men’s knitwear range echoes the Italian brand’s colourful patterned bold form but his reference points are uniquely African. His inspiration stems from the renowned Xhosa beadwork patterns and the delicate tones of the Xhosa colour palette. In a video I found online of Laduma he singles out a dusty red in one of his designs, inspired by samp and beans, a traditional Xhosa recipe. His approach is not unlike a curious fashion anthropologist, into what he calls, “A magical world.”
Laduma’s big break came during his undergraduate years at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. In a nation-wide design competition Laduma came out on top and then headed for London for the finals where he competed on the global stage taking first place again. He counts this as his greatest career turning point. That prize led to an invitation to the Design Indaba conference one of the most critically acclaimed design conferences held in Cape Town every year. In July last year another big turning point came, a showcase of his 2013 range My Heritage My Inheritance in Paris. “It was one of my most overwhelming moments. My mom always wanted us to go to Paris. She was obsessed with Paris. I felt that I fulfilled her fantasy in a way, through me, whatever she desired as a young black women living in South African, it was done though me, that’s why I dedicated the collection to her,” he says.
Laduma now has his sights set on a textile masters degree at Central St Martins in London. Next month though he heads to our Northern shores with his older sister, also a fashion designer, to present at the What Design Can Do conference taking place on the 7, 8 and 9 May in Amsterdam. Laduma and his sister will be our guests during their visit to Amsterdam.
Laduma's full range can be viewed on his website.