Giant Women In South African Design

Growing up as part of the Baby Boomer Generation, I have seen the status of women change so radically. And like most change which is gradual, some things that are part of the fabric of daily life, almost go by unnoticed. Like in my case, the evolutionary change in the status of women. I still remember in my teens, being totally confused as to the reason that there was the (much publized) movement called ‘women’s lib‘. I was a teenager, coping with my own teenager stuff and the fact that women needed to be liberated was the last thing on my agenda. But it happened and today our younger generation of women can reap the benefits of the work achieved by the giant women leaders, that went before them.

I would imagine that in the current generation of young girls and ladies, there may be many who may not always appreciate what some of the giant women have done to raise the status of women in our country. And that is why, I for one revel in the month of August being dedicated as Women’s Month here in SA and more particularly, 9th of August being declared a national public holiday, to honour the women of our nation. Dr John DeMartini (my guru as I am known to call him) always encourages us to : “stand on the shoulders of giants“. Since that is a philosophy that I embrace, Marica and I feel we would want to feature some of those “giant women in the design field” with you today.

Jay Smith

My first encounter with Jay was many years ago, at the start of my decorating career. She was already an Interior Designer much in demand. However, Jay has become synonymous with textile design and manufacture for the Interiors market in the past 20-odd years. Her background in Fine Art made it possible for her to create textile designs with a different and unique angle – building her own brand and ‘handwriting’ (as we like to call it). But, more than that, she was able to keep it local in terms of manufacture – as Jay puts it “through thick and thin.” Being one of the forerunners in this field, she has paved the way for future South African textile designers to express & create their unique fabric designs. The Jay Smith Collection now exports fabrics to suppliers in Australia, UK, Mauritius and Japan. We just love the Jay Smith motto: “Call me obsessive if you must, I can no longer conceal my lust, it’s fabric that turns my iron will to dust!”

Andrea Graff

Love this gorgeous portrait of Andrea taken by Patrick Ryan ( The interior images are via Andrea’s website.

“Renowned for her warm, sophisticated, sensual and beautiful approach, Andrea Graff is one of South Africa’s foremost interior designers. Her signature style layers antique finds with contemporary cutting-edge furniture, and combines objets d’art, luxurious fabrics, decorative patterns, textures and colours with a profound respect for architectural structure and detailing. Her projects range from urban family homes, apartments and holiday pied-à-terres to hotels, bars, lounges, clubs, restaurants and executive offices for clients in South Africa, the United Kingdom, USA, UAE, Africa & Australia.” (via Andrea Graff)

Carrol Boyes

[Images via]

Artist, designer, entrepreneur and successful business woman, Carrol Boyes is recognized as an icon in the South African Design Industry. Her beautiful upmarket homeware and tabletop items has made her a household South Africa name. Strong branding, a passion and commitment to South African design and ongoing investment in human resources ensures the continued success of the Company. She has been honoured with many a awards including the 2008 SA’s Most Influential Women in Business in the Arts & Culture category. (via Carrol Boyes)

Reney Otto

[Images via VISI Magazine, Issue: Winter 61 / Photographer: Dook]

Reney Otto, dubbed ‘the grand dame of South African interiors‘ has amongst her accalades a collaboration with some of South Africa’s top architectural teams on projects including FNB Bank City in Johannesburg. She says she is ever-inspired by the energy of the late Estee Lauder and another American icon, Carolina Herrera – both of whom have influenced her personal style. Reney’s fashion sensiblities are evident in much of her work.  For example, she has developed a signature paint colour, dubbed ‘Armani‘. A neutral ‘greige‘ tone. As an enthusiatic collector, her globetrotting excursions are a large part of her design inspiration. Her Mantra – ” perfection is  not impossible, merely probable”. (via Visi Magazine, Issue: Winter 61)

…and future great – Gemma Orkin

[Images via West Elm]

We though to include Cape Town ceramicist Gemma Orkin into our giant woman of South African design list because she embodies all characteristics that  make a Great. Even though she has not been in the industry as long as the ladies above (although 15 years is nothing to be shy about), she has a passion for South Africa, design and her medium – ceramics. Each piece, handmade and hand-painted, contains Gemma’s unique signature – a sunny, almost child-like illustration of indigenous South African fauna & flora. She has also recently collaborated with USA company West Elm, who is now selling her gorgeous designs to their American market. Watch this lady… she’s a future great!


2 thoughts on “Giant Women In South African Design

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.