What The President thinks about African design and Cape Town

An interview with Peet Pienaar and Hannerie Visser

Briefly introduce yourselves..
H: My name is Hannerie. I used to be in the magazine publishing industry for magazines like VISI and Woolworth TASTE. Then, three and a half years ago we started The President.
P: My name is Peet Pienaar and I come from a fine art background. I used to do a lot of art and then I moved into design about 10 years ago and we started working together about three years ago.

For the those who don’t know you, what have you done that they might know?
P: Designs for Afro Coffee, Bos Ice Tea, TriBeCa Coffee that you find a lot in ...
H: .. they supply all the Woolworths coffee shops. We’ve got a shop downstairs, CHURCH, and then internationally we do a soccer magazine for Boca Juniors, one of the biggest soccer clubs in the world.
P: We also just did the Diesel Island campaign.
H: .. and then we also do a lot of stuff for MTV Latin America and MTV Base here. We do the magazines for MK, the music channel on DStv and we did a magazine for Channel O called the Coco Joe and the magazine MK Bruce Lee. Wat nog? We do festivals, namely the Toffie Pop Culture Festival and the Toffie Food Festival coming up in September.

Tell me more about the Toffie Pop Culture Festival.
P: The festival looks like it’s about design, but it‘s actually about everything that involves culture. So it includes; music, design, art, fashion, design, all sorts of films, things that you access culture through. We look at influencing people in South Africa, especially Cape Town and introducing them while grouping them with designers and cultural makers from other countries and getting projects off the ground that develop new things. There are talks, speakers, exhibitions, workshops are very big, we have small talks with many local speakers and then we have special speakers, for instance this time we have rapper Molekane from Johannesburg to collaborate with a young composer from Cape Town and then we have the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra performing. We have ongoing collaborations between filmmakers and fashion designers from Argentina and here and stuff like this. For us, it is a way to really connect designers and to showcase local designers but to also create projects where people can really make new things. It’s a long term collaboration.

Does the Toffie Food Festival have a similar approach?
H: Ja. The format is exactly the same. But then it’s just obviously 100% focused on food.
P: And then food culture. Because we wanted to include food in the other one, but we thought it was such a big category and it includes so many people and things that we thought it would be better to make a festival just around food and culture. So it’s not necessarily a tasting or like a expo of food. It’s more like a ..
H: .. a conference, a food salon.
P: And it’s much more about food and culture, and food and memory.
H: .. and heritage and stories as well as where food comes from.

(The Toffie Food Festival menu: Julie Powell, the world's most famous food blogger whose life was the subject of the film 'Julie & Julia'; food stylist, cookbook author and publisher Eloise Alemany;
local blogger behind 'Sardines on Toast' and chef at Oep ve Koep in Paternoster, Kobus van der Merwe; food critic and author Anna Trapido; Renata Coetzee, whose cookbook Koekemakranka, was awarded the South African winner in the international Gourmand World Cookbook Awards and an Argentinian baker)

What’s with the Argentinan connection?
H: It started with the company in 2008.
P: We were always very interested in the connection between the Southern Hemisphere and the things that are similar. We think we and Europe don’t have so much in common, we just live in such different worlds. But when you go to Argentina, the problems they have, are very similar to ours. It’s both Southern Hemisphere, ex-colonial, developing countries.. so you feel much more at home and you can see yourself much more there. So for us it was always much more inspiring to go there and to do things there. And then we started doing work for MTV in Argentina, then obviously we got to know it much more, so we wanted to develop that kind of Southern Hemisphere thing more and more.

What are you working on at the moment? 
H: What we’re busy with right now is the Toffie Food Festival. We‘ve also launched the secret restaurant and that’s actually part of the festival. The restaurant moves with us, when we go to Argentina, it’s open there and when we’re here, it’s open here.

Tell me more about it, the secret restaurant..
H: Well, it’s a secret.
P: It’s called CHOP and it only seats 12 people at a time and it happens once a week.

If it’s not a set restaurant, is it like a pop-up space?
P: Yeah, it’s a pop-up space and it got a set menu of 5-courses.
H: ... and it’s on Thursdays. It’s 350 per person and it’s with beer and wine and water.
P: It’s quite an experience; it includes quite a bit of design and stuff, we’re trying to push things there that we love.

(For bookings, send an email to toffie@thepresident.co.za)

What is your design process?
P: Obviously it depends on how commercial the project is and then you would obviously look at who are the role players within that category and you would see what other people are doing and then you would say, who is the market we are targeting. Then we start developing things for this specific market in this category. From there you start to work on a concept and from the concept you start making the designs. And then you make a whole of a lot of designs and then you present that to the client and then they direct you to in which kind of direction they want and then you narrow it down to one image or packaging or one design.

You are known for quite unique designs, what kind of clients approach you?
P: I think there are two ways that people design. Either you do what you love all of the time and then people come to you for that, or you do what people want you to do and then you only do that. We took the approach of only doing what we love.

So you’re keeping it real?
P: Keeping it fun for yourself. Otherwise you have to do things all the time that you hate doing.
H: And then you start hating your clients and we really love our clients, we love what we do. And Peet does a lot of research. I have never seen a designer do that much research, and we also craft designs, and craft and craft and craft, until it’s perfect. It’s very intensive, long process.

How does your African identity influence your works and design?
P: For us it is very important to find inspirations from local things, because we see how many designers are influenced by designers from Europe. We rather look at non-design things that are very African and look at the essence of that and using this as the inspiration for our work.

Does South African design have a strong identity or is it still mainly influenced by international design trends?
P: I think...
H: I think Peet is actually, he can’t say it, but Peet definitely started the whole thing I think in South Africa about looking at African stuff for inspiration. And by doing the Afro Magazine Peet started something that is very important because before that, people just copied what’s happening in Europe. And you can see now, younger designers are starting to look at actually what’s happening around us.

What examples of South African designs show that we are internationally on par?
P: Afro Magazine, the one we won the Grand Prix for publication design.
H: Peet was the first South African to win that.
P: That’s like the most pure inspired by African thing we did. So in that way it was very well recognised internationally.
H: VISI magazine won once, I was the publisher there and got Peet to guest-design the issue for us and that magazine cover won the best magazine cover in the world.

Does Cape Town have a chance as Design Capital 2014?
P: I think it’s a very controversial thing for me in a way. I think it would be nice if Cape Town could, but to be honest we as Capetonians have to look at the situation honestly and we are not. Surely, there are other places that are much more well known for being the design capitals of the world. It is very ambitious to try to claim that. 

What does Cape Town need?
P: I mean we have advertising schools, but we don’t have design schools. For that already, we don’t have serious education around design. We don’t have the industrial part of the design industry. To make a line of, for instance if you want to make plastic furniture, glasses or anything here, we don’t have the industry to do that. They all close down. To support design you have to have the industry to be able to make things. And we don’t have that. I think it’s very much an online thing at the moment.
H: I also think that there are actually only very few people that make a living from design. It’s more advertising.
P: A lot of design is happening online, but there are not a lot of people that print things, that make things really. Local fashion designers, everyone is struggling, it’s not like we have an industry going.

Is design made in Cape Town influenced by lifestyle and culture? 
H: Because it’s your world, it’s the things that you see every day, of course it’s going to influence you.
P: The city does, but if you talk about the city as an organisation then the city can allow much more to happen. If you look at Buenos Aires and the stuff that the city allows there as an organisation, they do much more for design than Cape Town. I think we can learn a lot from what is happening there.

Where do I get the best news on African design?
H: So many different things. From walking around in the Golden Acre to going to see a band to reading the Afro Magazine to reading Huisgenoot Magazine. It’s everything.
P: There’s not a source.
H: It’s not blogs and things like that. It’s super real. It’s contact with people.
P: It’s looking at barber posters and the design principles that are used, what fonts are used, what printing process was used, how China is influencing Africa at the moment, looking at all the Chinese shops that have opened in the city, how this is influencing us. All these kind of things I would see as African design at the moment. There is not one source.

What is your biggest inspiration?
H: I think making an effort to walk instead of driving.
P: Also an effort to go to places people normally wouldn’t go. For instance, there is an amazing restaurant at the bottom of one of these very African curio malls here, that is very touristic. But if you go into the restaurant, it’s only for all the people that sell things there. And you only find food there from Ghana, DRC, Ethiopia. That’s the kind of stuff we are looking for.
H: Last week we visited all the butcheries in Salt River and there are some really, really hidden ones..
P: .. that only sell sheep heads.
H: Because we were looking for sheep heads and it was amazing. And you have to ask people on the street and go look for it. Just looking for the real things. Things that are truly local and African. We kind of get obsessed when we start.

By Antonia Heil, photograph by Desmond Louw

The President
12 Spin Street | City Centre | Cape Town | +27 (0)21 462 6092

If Cape Town becomes the World Design Capital 2014.. we spoke to Bulelwa Makalima-Ngewana, the managing director of the Cape Town Partnership.

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