We caught up with acclaimed South African designer Janita Toerien and came away even more impressed with her work than ever before.
Confetti Chicks: How did you get into the wedding industry?
Janita Toerien: I always loved drawing dresses, whether it was for my paper dolls when I was 6 or just doodling through high school. When I went to college though, I wasn’t encouraged to follow a career in designing dresses (I was actually told that “You are pretty, you should rather look into going into PR” and “You really shouldn’t be sewing”). By chance I interned for Elizabeth Stockenström for a couple of weeks and realized that I quite liked the whole wedding dress thing. After I came back from Amsterdam where I had worked at SuitSupply (a suit retailer…I know, the complete opposite of what I’m doing now), I realized I wanted to pursue a career in wedding dresses and with the blessing of my folks I started working from home to see if I could make it work!
What do you enjoy most about the wedding industry?
It’s vain, but the prettiness of it all. There are so many stresses in daily life, so many things on the news with politics and economics, but when it’s bridal, you get to focus on beautiful things.
What have been your greatest lessons that you have learned about your trade?
Emotions make the decisions in bridal, not logic. It’s not a bad thing but it’s not about a logical conclusion, process or outcome; our industry is based and works around emotion. The way you feel in your dress, the way your heart flutters when you see a beautiful photograph etc.
What advice do you have for clients when choosing their dress?
It’s simple: don’t get a dress custom-made if you are (a) not able to come for the required fittings in person, and (b) unable to imagine/visualize. You are going to stress yourself out and in turn the people in your life and then us. Then it’s better to go for a ready-made dress where you can see the finished product and try it on. Way more peace of mind then!
What is your advice for the bride (and groom) about their big day?
The day is about you two making a commitment to one another. It is not about anything else. Yes, it is nice to have all the beautiful things that go along with a traditional wedding celebration and you are so very much allowed to have all that, but in the end, you should be just as happy getting married in jeans and a t-shirt with no one around because that is what it’ about: THAT life-long commitment.
What gives you the greatest excitement and joy about weddings?
When you see those couples who REALLY just want to be together. Those who, when they stand together after she’s walked down the aisle, realize that they don’t care about anything else, as long as they get to make their vows to one another.
What has been your greatest wedding memory or experience?
In 2016 I made a wedding dress for my then 85 year old grandmother!
What would you do different if you got married again / renewed your vows?
We had a very small wedding (30 guests) and we kept invitations to only closest family and friends. I’ve become really close with someone who I knew then already but didn’t invite because we hadn’t known each other that long, and now she is one of my closest friends. That’s my only regret, I wish she was there on that day.
What different or unusual things would you love to see a couple do at a wedding?
Oh I don’t care, as long as they do them they should do whatever makes them happy!
Tell us something about yourself that people don’t know.
I unfriend and unfollow people on Facebook and Instagram if they even come close to posting Game of Thrones spoilers. I am a massive fan and I save up all episodes of a season to binge watch it at the end. I don’t like hearing other people’s opinions and theories on it, so I immediately unfriend and unfollow.
Tell us something about yourself that people wouldn’t expect from someone in your line of work.
I am an introvert and quickly experience social anxiety when I get a lot of attention. Which is difficult because the creative in me wants the recognition of having designed something I consider beautiful but at the same time I can feel overwhelmed by the attention when it goes really well. I am relaxed and open in my comfort zone, like my studio where I work one on one with brides, but often shut down and get incredibly shy at bigger events where I don’t know people.
Interviewed by Confetti Chicks: September 2017