Confession though, this isn’t my moment to flex, because I didn’t actually know where the kiki was, at least on that specific occasion. Another confession, I just googled ‘flex’ (to boast or brag) and ‘kiki’ (a social gathering), so that I sound suitably “hip and down with the kids”. I’m clearly neither.
When YourLuxury Africa asked me to write about being an in-the-know maven, I questioned whether they had meant to mail me and not someone else. Turns out I may be a walking black book, but also, I have a heavy case of impostor syndrome.
For 12 years, I ran an internationally acclaimed tour company in Johannesburg called Past Experiences. It was my job to know what was new, hip and happening. I was always looking for an innovative spot to take my clients; whether to eat, shop or learn about the City of Gold. I quickly built up an encyclopaedic knowledgeand learnt a lot about the luxury market, as most of my clients were wealthy international travellers. I was even honoured with an award by Vanity Fair magazine for the work I did in Jozi.
But all good things must come to an end, and I was long overdue for a change. So, three years ago, and after several health issues, much stress and a few major life events, I decided to try something new. I now work as a journalist so being in the know is still important as I write about trends, design and the local cultural scene.
Without sounding clichéd, I have learnt a few things on my journey to where I am now. These life lessons and the confidence and knowledge they bring are one of the joys of getting older, and include:
- Being yourself and honest about your interests and experiences is crucial. Excitement about your work and passions will always shine through.
- I live by an ethos of kindness and acceptance. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said humanity is made for “togetherness, love and compassion”, and I believe this is true.
- A long-time colleague and friend maintains that I can fit in anywhere. I’m empathic and go into all situations with respect and an open mind to fresh ideas and experiences.
- While it may be hard, constructive criticism is important. My sister Sarah is a well-known journalist and editor and has become my mentor over the last few years. Her advice is essential.
- Music legend David Bowie had a longstanding career because he wasn’t afraid of change. He continually reinvented his music and aesthetic. Like him, I hope to always adapt and challenge myself.
- Balance and boundaries are everything. Being forced to take a break during the pandemic made me realise how unbalanced my life was. Mental and physical health are vital.
My little black book of cool
I’m always on the lookout for innovative restaurants, fashion and beautiful design. Here are some of my top picks
Affair of the art
Thanks to potholes and loadshedding, Joburg isn’t shining particularly brightly right now. It’s easy to be glum,but there is still joy to be had, and I continually find it in the local art scene.
I recently went to the launch of Otherscapes at the Johannesburg Contemporary Art Foundation (JCAF) in Forest Town. JCAF blows me away with its unique exhibitions. Last year they showed Frida Kahlo’s work alongside Irma Stern and Indian artist Amrita Sher-Gil. Otherscapes, which is on until November, includes immersive instillations by four contemporary South African artists; Siemon Allen, Wim Botha, Sethembile Msezane and Nicholas Hlobo.
I’m looking forward to Nic Bladen’s upcoming show at Everard-Read Gallery in Rosebank. His lifelike botanical sculptures of plants, many of which we recognise from our gardens, are unmissable. Joburg-based Congolese artist Thonton Kabeya also has an exciting exhibition starting at the Wits Art Museum in August.
A night out at the theatre is magic, especially where the Joburg Theatre in Braamfontein is concerned. Over the last year I have seen some amazing productions there, including Vuyani Dance Theatre and Gregory Maqoma’s Third World Express, Ladysmith Black Mambazo in concert and William Kentridge’s harrowing The Head & The Load. The latter took place on a purpose-built 50-meter-long stage and tells the often-disregarded story of black Africans in World War I.
Park my words
Weekend walks with my mom and sister at Emmarentia and the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens are the highlight of my week. As we walk, enjoying the crisp air and blossoming flowers, we laugh, we argue and we try to solve the world’s problems. Usable, free and well-kept public space is a luxury, and the park is visited by such a diverse group of people. Only problem – we must stop our walk and talk to every mutt we pass. If you want a great coffee, the Smart Perfect Coffee kiosk at the Thomas Bowler Street entrance make a mean cortado with almond milk.
A girl about town
While I love nothing more than staying in and binge-watching series, throwing on a hot lewk and enjoying a night on the town is also great fun.
Sundowners at Marble are a treat, especially in summer when you can sit outside. I’m an Old-Fashioned aficionado, and theirs is delectable. Alternatively, the Rand Club, Johannesburg’s original private club, has recently launched a member-only bar called Twenty-One in their spectacular Edwardian building.
For a party or just a good cocktail, Sin+Tax in Rosebank has you covered. This old-school speak easy was the only African bar to make it onto the World’s 50 best bars top 100 list in 2019.
My go-to restaurant is Pron in Linden. This Jozi institution serves North Chinese food, which includes noodles, bread and lots of little plates. The vegetarian rainy-day noodles are so comforting, while the spicy brinjal is mouth wateringly delicious.
Rosebank is the place to be right now. It’s buzzing with the addition of some divine new restaurants and bars. Modern Tailor serves top Indian food and I recommend the pani puri as a snack, along with their twisted Old Fashioned, which has the cheeky addition of a chai syrup. Nearby Fugazzi does a mix of New York Italian and American diner food. The interiors – think glass bricks and classic booth seating – are great too. The gluten-free Cacio e Pepe pizza is ‘chefs kiss’.
My love for Pantry is well-known, and nothing explains the peculiarities of Johannesburg better than a luxury 24-hour garage shop. Late-night excursions there normally include a chai tea and breakfast for the next morning. They also have a great selection of sparkling wines, freshly baked bread and pastries.
I like to decamp to my ‘coffice’, Olivia’s in Northcliff, a couple of mornings a week. It’s owned by the Killas family, who along with their staff, make it a real home away from home. And nothing beats their authentic Greek coffee. Unfortunately, it’s not on the menu, so you must become part of the inner circle to nab a cup.
Pop culture deluxe
I am a proud pop-culture fanatic, be it film, music, podcasts or a very mediocre romance novel. Despite eight years of tertiary education and three degrees, all I really want to know about is Taylor Swifts latest squeeze and who wore what on the red carpet. My leading source of useless celebrity gossip is Deuxmoi (on Instagram or Twitter), who have both the skinny on where celebrities are hanging out and a fortune teller-like grasp of celebrity relationships.
It’s impossible to be bored in London. It’s my top city to visit, although with the current exchange rate, South Africans are lucky if they can afford a small coffee. My sister says I’m the best person to travel with because I do mega research on off-the-beaten-track bars, restaurants, exhibitions and shops. Museums in London are unbeatable, specifically the Victoria and Albert Museum, who currently have a glitzy OTT exhibition on called DIVA, which celebrates the power and creativity of iconic performers like Dolly Parton and Tina Turner.
I adore clothes and wear a melange of thrifted clothing, vintage hand-me-downs and street fashion, mixed in with the occasional higher-end item. I haven’t met a colour or pattern I don’t love, and my style icons are my mom, Princess Diana in the 1980s and a Wes Anderson aesthetic. Trawling through fashion online, especially luxury fashion houses, is a top pastime. My favourite designer was Allesandro Michelle for Gucci, and I’m heartbroken he stepped down from the brand recently, although I am excited to see what’s next. His work is a maximalist’s dream and unbelievably fun, especially the Gucci X Adidas collab, and his HAHAHA collection with Harry Styles. If anyone would like to gift me one of its vintage-inspired suits or leopard-print suitcase, I won’t say no.
When in doubt, throw on a colourful sneaker. They can up the cool factor of any outfit, whether you are going casual or a little chicer. I’m loyal to New Balance, especially the 574 which was first released in the late 1980s and has such a classic silhouette. That said, my current go-to kicks are Adidas Gazelles in light orange and blue. This shoe is huge right now and can be seen on many a famous foot.
I surround myself with beautiful things, and my home, a mid-century yellow brick, is chock-full of art, antiquesand family heirlooms. Everything has a story. Working on a decor magazine, I spend a lot of time writing about homes, architecture and design. It also means I have a long list of coveted items; these include edgy ceramics by Jonathan Adler, Pillar Candles by Hay at Crema Design and my all-time most wanted item, a 1970s Michél Ducaroy Togo chair from Ligne Roset.
Locally, my must have decor piece is a Basotho blanket from Aranda. I have one in nearly every room. It’s a historic South African business, and the blankets they produce are culturally significant to the Basotho people. In June 2022, Aranda released a Young Basotho Designers collection which celebrates the culture and its rich history of blankets, but also provides a platform to young creatives. It is, in a word, fab.
— Jo Buitendach is a freelance lifestyle and design journalist, as well as contributing editor of VISI magazine. She lives in Joburg with her five very spoilt rescue chihuahuas.