Italian flair for Madiba Shirt


The Presidential  brand is known for its luxurious, hand-painted silk batik prints and attention to detail at every level of each garment’s creation. But for the most part, it’s
known for its connection to Nelson Mandela.

Mandela made the “Presidential Shirt”, fondly known as the Madiba Shirt, world famous when he wore one presented to him by brand founder Desré Buirski following his election to office in 1994.  On Friday, Presidential embarked on a new direction with a debut women’s collection for the African queen.

The “Presidential Queen” AW17 collection, together with their latest menswear range, was unveiled at SA Fashion Week (SAFW) in Joburg’s Hyde Park Corner. Collaborating with Italian- born designer Pietro Giannuzzi, the presentation included 35 looks designed and made in South Africa.


The intricate detailing of the embellishments, beadwork and embroidery on each garment was impressive, as models walked down the catwalk in exquisite gowns, bomber and biker jackets, kaftans, pants, and silk and cotton shirts in African and Eastern prints.

The collection showed African haute couture and ready-to-wear pieces could be mixed and matched separates or worn as sets.

Speaking after the show at a gathering of the Presidential team and special guests, brand founder Desré Buirski explained how Presidential was evolving to cater for men and women while sticking to its original aesthetic.


“I am so proud and so excited to be working with Giannuzzi… he is taking the brand to the next level. He is inspired by the brand and the history of the shirts being connected to the history of Madiba,” says Desré Buirski

“What is amazing is how he has managed to use our fabrics, not only combining Eastern fabrics with African, but also that he has brought in his Italian skill of design,”she says

“As much as he is proud to be associated with the brand, we are proud to have
him on board with us. The existing team will remain and the heart of the shirts will remain. However, as we grow we will add new collections;

“We are so proud that we can represent the country in such a beautiful way. We have been asked for years to produce womenswear and I never really wanted to do shirts for women as it was going to be too much of a duplication;

“We felt that this was the right time as we had Giannuzzi on board to bring in the Italian flavour with our fabrics, beaded details… the collection is absolutely stunning,” says Desré Buirski.


About his involvement, Giannuzzi says that being part of the already established brand as they embarked on a new journey and being entrusted with the task of producing the brand’s first women’s collection had been a huge honour.

“I was very proud to be asked to be part of the team and to design the ‘Presidential Queen’ collection. Before Presidential used to sell only shirts and now you can find jackets, dresses… It is a brand that is evolving;

“It is becoming younger, but is still inspired by the past and the great man Mandela,” says Pietro Giannuzzi.

Another milestone for Presidential is the bulk of their production is now being done by a local factory, thereby playing a big role in supporting the local fashion industry.

“Presidential Group took a decision to make the Presidential Shirt range in
South Africa two years ago. Before that, the shirts were made abroad, now 80 percent of the shirts are made in Cape Town at Lontana Clothing.

“Our support of the factory has ensured it has continued operations in a very challenging economic environment,” he says.

“The craftwork in our range showcases South African talent. The skills are here, they just need to be found, harnessed and given an opportunity to shine,”says Pietro Giannuzzi


Buirski adds: “What is also fabulous for us is that we are not just aiming to be a wonderful brand, we want to keep Nelson Mandela’s legacy alive. And in order to do that, it is not just by wearing shirts and these beautiful fabrics, but to actually create jobs by giving local
fashion a bit of a boost.

“We are still doing all the shirts and we will keep the shirts coming in all different styles and fabrics, but adding other pieces makes the collection a bit broader.

“We felt that this was the right time because the brand needed to evolve and we would really love at some point to take the brand to the rest of Africa”

“But we first had to introduce the new collection because this is the heartbeat of our home and the heartbeat of Nelson Mandela,” says Buirski.

Celebrities and fashion influencers who attended the Presidential showcase included stylist Dumi Gwebu, TV presenter Mthoko Mkhathini and a photographer from According To Jerri, who all wore printed Madiba Shirts.



Pietro Giannuzzi and Desre Buirski.JPG

The Presidential team:  Pietro Giannuzzi and Desré Buirski.

Connect with them at :Website:
Instagram: @presidentialshirt
Facebook: Presidential Shirt
Twitter: @presidentialAfr

This piece was first published in the Cape Argus on September 28 2016. 


The Simon and Mary brand is a story of heritage and history

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WHEN World War II came to Poland in the late 1930s, the young milliner Mordechai Pozniak was forced to flee his home, leaving a successful cap manufacturing business behind. Mordechai and his family found a new home in Joburg where he set up shop again, producing what he knew best – hats.

When he died in the early 1950s, one of his sons, Simon, took over the family business, growing it into one of the largest wool felt hat suppliers in Africa at the

This is how the story of Simon and Mary: The New “Old Hat” began. Today, these funky hats have become a staple item among the fashion-conscious elite. In bold colours and slick shapes, and worn by fashion influencers, they are now a familiar sight at fashion weeks across the country. Continuing the family legacy is a fourth generation Pozniak, Dean, who is now at the helm of the business. He describes his grandfather as a “good and honest man who had high business morals and lived his life as he preached it”.
Dean has breathed new life into the family factory, based in the suburb of Heriotdale in Joburg. He rejuvenated the brand last year and named it after his grandparents Simon and Mary.
“I based the brand on the heritage and history of the factory and business, naming the brand after my grandparents. Without them we wouldn’t be here today,” he says.

brand ambassador Trevor Stuurman

brand ambassador Trevor Stuurman

The business manufactures 100 percent wool felt, straw and leather hats. “We import the raw materials from Bolivia and China. In the ’70s to ’90s, we were exporting the raw materials to Europe, the US and even China at that time. With China coming along and making these materials at a much cheaper price we had to go with the flow and adapt with the times,” says Dean.

Dean says the type hats that were being made 20 to 40 years ago are still being made by the same people at the factory, and by the same machinery. “This is why when you buy a Simon and Mary hat you are not just buying a fashion item, but also a piece of history,”
he says.

“The people that have been working with us in the factory have been here
for decades. We have some people who have been working with us for over 40 years, Alfred Manyoni has been with us for 60 years.

“He (Manyoni) will give you a lecture on how young people today wear their hats wrong. The old-school way (his way) is wearing the hat on top of your head,straight on. The new generation, as he calls them, like to wear hats as they please, whether it be on the side, on the back of the head, or straight on top. In my mind there is no wrong way.”

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Simon and Mary was recently selected by Vogue Italia, alongside 10 other African brands, for their latest instalment of V Talents – Scouting For Africa. The company joins two other South African creatives – accessories designer Katherine- Mary Pichulik of Pichulik, and knitwear designer Laduma Ngxokolo of Maxhosa by Laduma on the list.
“We are honoured and very happy with the nomination. Being nominated with such talented individuals and brands from Africa shows the progress we are making and gives us an indication that we are going in the right direction,” says

Dean. “Hats have always been cool. It was just a matter of bringing the old-school
elements and mixing them with the young fresh ideas that we bring to the table.”
Last year, Simon and Mary showcased at the International tradeshow for Modern
Urban Lifestyle, Bread and Butter in Berlin.

Simon and Mary’s brand ambassadors include Elle magazine South Africa’s first
local style reporter Trevor Stuurman and model and TV presenter Masego “Maps”

“These two gentleman first caught my eye when they were posting images wearing
some of our hats. The best part was that they had gone out and purchased the
hats from one of our retailers and they were punting them online as if we had
sponsored them. This showed me that they genuinely cared for the brand and in turn would care for the image that they give off,” says Dean.

Simon and Mary 5 SS 15

Although the brand is more popular in Joburg, it is gaining popularity in Cape
Town. “We had a pop up shop at the end of 2014 in Cape Town, called Updog. It
was a great success and helped in spreading the brand and story in Cape Town,” he says.

Each Simon and Mary hat has a special name, and their customers “could be a 16-
year-old high school girl or a 70-year-old dapper gentleman”, says Dean. “Most of
the hats are named after people in our family, as well as the people that work with us in the factory. I also named some of them after common Polish names to honour my grandfather’s Polish heritage.”

Dean finds that there are more benefits to owning the factory than challenges.
“We have freedom of the factory for sampling etc. Whereas if you are trying to
build a brand and are using other factories you have to rely on other people,”

“Inspiration for our designs are 70 percent of the time born in the factory. Using old
imagery, old trimmings lying around, and all the wonderful discoveries we make
daily here at the factory add to the process.”

Their latest range will include bright summer hues and retail for between
R500 and R1 100, depending on style.

“We decided to break the classic mould of Simon and Mary by bringing in the brighter colours for summer. The range consists of Mounty, Bowler and the RAW Roberto hat, along with the Pith Helmet. We also released a Vintage Paisley Panama collection.”

Dean has a large collection of hats. “I’m very weird about hats, you will
catch me staring at people from across the room just so I can assess their piece of headwear.

Growing up knowing that my family owned a hat factory has always
helped with my growing love for hats. It’s a part of my family, in my blood and an
item that holds more value to me than most. I funnily enough don’t wear hats –
it’s a combination of not wearing my own product as well as having a large head,
with lots of hair,” he adds.
● Simon and Mary hats are sold across South Africa. To find a retailer, visit

[This feature was first published in the Cape Argus, March 30 2015]

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