Jackie Burger's Salon 58
Jackie Burger’s new business venture is a first of its kind in South Africa. The celebrated style icon and former editor of Elle South Africa is your salonniére at Salon 58’s popular soirée’s, a place where women can meet to be entertained and informed in an atmosphere of camaraderie.
INTERVIEW BY NICOLE DANIELLE
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANIKA MOLNAR AND CLIVE MYBURGH
Nicole Danielle: Firstly, I wanted to congratulate you on Salon 58! You had us all in suspense after you left Elle – everyone was wondering what you’d be up to next. What inspired you to start Salon 58? How did it all begin?
Jackie Burger: It’s essentially part of my life cycle. Something sort of starts speaking to me, and it sounds a bit esoteric but it’s really I suppose recognizing when you get to the end of a cycle, where you get to a point and you reflect and you say, “Am I still learning enough? Am I still giving enough back? Is it time to make way for somebody fresher and newer in what I’m doing?”
So it started about two years before I left Elle. At that point I was 53, and reflecting about where I wanted to go next and it was a combination of a few things. I started working with a life/business coach because I also got to the point where my career was very much a commercially-driven career, from retail to publishing, but always me involved in a corporate set-up and always I think deep down wondering what it would be like to start and to run my own business – something that’s an extension of my experience, my passions, my dreams – and I think because of my generation and the way I was brought up, it wasn’t really that available to me when I started moving into the labour market. So that was one aspect.
I also think because I live very close to the zeitgeist and spirit of the times I started picking up that entrepreneurial opportunities or being a self-sufficient entrepreneur was very much where things were going – economies, business opportunities – and looking at the millennial [generation] and thinking, “If they’ve got the courage to do it, what is stopping me? What is the worst thing that can happen?” In my generation, failure was not acceptable where I think now, in the times that we live in, failure doesn’t even feature. It’s about trying something new and pushing your boundaries and exploring potential. Working with a business coach is erasing all the conditioning and somebody saying to you, “If you could start now and live your dreams, what would it be?”
Then in terms of where we find ourselves today, it was also partly a trip to Paris that inspired me, where Chanel gave me the opportunity to go to a Chanel show and then after that go to Coco Chanel’s apartment. So there were a few wonderful variables that just came about that just spurred me on and I thought, “If I don’t do it now, I’m never going to do it.”
N: Talk me through your decision of leaving the magazine after so many years and pursuing your new venture.
J: It was incredibly challenging. Although I’ve been very privileged in terms of my career, and the right opportunity at the right time is very much my CV, there was something about Elle, the brand, that really resonated with my own personal belief system of style and substance and it was really the stepping stone for where I am today in terms of something that also gave me seven years of almost an education, and the confidence. I loved the brand, I loved my team – everything about it. And then also building everything up, and to say, like anything, “It’s time to hand it over to the next person to take it to the next level, and for me to finally unlock my own potential and my own business”, and with that comes a lot of doubt, so it was difficult. It’s kind of that crossroads where you leave something and now you’ve got to start something completely new and you don’t have the luxury of an infrastructure. It’s really, really starting something. The salon premise and the whole concept – there’s no template for it and it hasn’t been done before. So it was daunting and what I realised afterwards was that it’s good to give yourself a little bit of a break, that it’s good to actually go through all the cycles of mourning and reflecting and celebrating and everything.
N: I love that your new salon is at the P.J. Olivier Art Centre in Stellenbosch.
J: It was really something that I was hoping to manifest. Looking at the origin of a salon, it’s very much cultural exploration. All the years that I’ve worked with design – and it’s also a personal philosophy – I’m always honouring the origin of anything and really extracting the true value. And for me, to have the opportunity to work from a space that still cultivates and celebrates art and design is an immense privilege. And also because we host most of the soirées here, we hope that it will stay like that. It’s to enter a place with history and a legacy and a place of education in the discipline that is indirectly the foundation for design.
N: The décor in your salon is beautiful.
J: It’s once again an extension of an aesthetic: a personal aesthetic on the one hand, and on the other hand, it’s very important for me when I work and when I create to be in a gentle space… A space that is in a way unadorned, but a little bit complex and layered. Sensory stimuli is very important to me, so it needs to be gentle, it needs to be quiet, I need to be able to be part of nature in a way. I need to see the light change if possible.
It’s also been all my life thinking and visualising the space – that if I could one day have this space, what it could be. And then in terms of the furniture and the pieces, it’s always been my love, the more European, French furniture. In terms of the upholstery, I chose old vintage Italian linen, but what I also wanted to achieve when I worked with Nelia de Wet was the look of when you start making a garment. The first layer when you make the sample that will become the garment; it’s usually done in a stripped-down linen, and kind of inside-out, showing the seams and the pins.
The bookshelves have little mementos that I look at and just remember the beauty of how my life is actually and the career that it’s afforded me, and special moments and trinkets and treasures.
N: I can see that you’re quite inspired by Parisian style.
J: I just resonate with the personality of Parisian flair, style, point of view. Whether it’s a pioneering spirit, a sense of confidence, or just an appreciation of arts and culture and of line or form, that it can be incredibly simplistic or minimalistic or phenomenally opulent. I just find when I move into Paris I just feel I can breathe and I feel at home. It’s got nothing to do with wanting to adopt it but really celebrating what it does for my personal aesthetic. My intention is to never say that “this is me” or “this is what it’s about”, but I take inspiration from that and use it to contextualise the content of Salon 58 at the soirées that we host.
N: I attended your “Noir” soirée and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I know that each soirée has a different theme, but what can one expect at each soirée?
J: It’s really early days, as “Noir” was the third soirée. There is a bit of a template, let’s call it the very organic template, which is very much based on content, conversation, collaboration and community (the four C’s). What I did was I took the premise of a salon, which is a gathering and an education and a conversation, and I took my time in publishing and my love and passion for content and I fused the two. The idea is for it to be more intimate, for it to be very experiential and very engaging so that when you leave, you feel that it was a layered experience. The theme is to keep it current, but there’s an emotive aspect to it every time. Whether it’s “bare” or “allure” or “noir” or, for the one for August, “lovely”, it’s really to engage with content like you would in a magazine but this is more lateral and it’s more emotive and you just leave with all the senses being stimulated, whether it’s the décor, the flowers, the fragrance, the taste. It’s really about refining and slowing down.
I want guests to feel that the soirées afford them quality time. I would like them to feel that it’s an opportunity where they can really meet new people and engage with people. It’s intimate, it’s non-threatening and it’s a time to ask questions if they feel like it, to leave feeling that you’ve learnt and experienced something new or different, that you’ve pushed your boundaries. I think quite often one has so little time that the easiest thing is to resort to the thing you are so used to. Through the content and collaboration, it’s opening up, whetting appetites, maybe for something that you wouldn’t have been [otherwise] exposed to. But it’s always your choice. And I think that’s also very important – we create a canvas of stimuli and it’s for you to form an opinion on whether you liked it or didn’t like it. You’re exposed to it nevertheless.
N: Like those interesting Caperitif vermouth cocktails we tried.
J: Correct. The fact that Adi Badenhorst was inspired by something like a vermouth that’s the heart of so many European cocktails, and his journey of discovering that it’s part of our cultural heritage, and then getting experts in to source it locally and then to make it here. Whether you liked the cocktail or not, it’s that recognition of: South Africa has fynbos, we have ingredients, we can make it our own. And that’s very, very important to me. It’s always that sense of adventure.
N: Although the idea of a soirée is very European, I love that you focus on supporting local designers and brands.
J: The fashion side, because that’s been my experience, is the easier one in terms of looking at the theme of the soirée and then aligning the designers. So for the launch we had Nick Coutts, because he works with beautiful local textiles and we asked him to do these big scarves. He works with Eastern Cape mohair and it’s about sustainability and he also has a very strong empowerment philosophy to his design. We’ve had Simon and Mary with their hats – once again a family business that they’ve reinvented.Also PICHULIK – Katherine’s whole philosophy of empowering women and taking inspiration from Africa. “Noir” was also about the duality of going back to something as supposedly simplistic as the LBD but the intricacy of it at the same time and what it does to a woman when she wears it, and balancing it with two established designers (namely Black Coffee and Kluk CGDT) and then two up-and-coming designers (Lara Klawikowski and Drotsky). Giving designers a platform is so important to me.
This is an opportunity that moves beyond the fashion weeks because where else do you get so up-close-and-personal with the clothes? When we [Salon 58] do a show, we show it on models and then real women, so that you can relate. It is vital for me to cultivate an eye for local design. Part of what I do is style consultations and really working with the perceived insecurity of women because the only engagement that they have with clothing is in the store or in magazines, and I really want to cultivate a place where they can come and ask me for help. I care about women and I want them to experience their creative boundaries. So that’s part of the showing as well – it’s to say, “You too can wear it! Here’s Rita who’s had two babas and she’s in her late 30s and she looks incredible!”
At the launch show we also had women in their 50s modeling the clothes. It’s also to say to women, “Come and do a show for us, overcome that insecurity.” If we don’t empower ourselves, nobody else is going to.
N: I think it’s very important for someone to set that example for women – to feel confident about themselves – because the fashion industry can be quite intimidating.
J: It’s intimidating to me. I feel we need to break that barrier.
N: You spoke briefly about slow fashion at your soirée, which is something I believe in and am very passionate about. I personally prefer investing in an item of clothing that I know will last a very long time, and if it’s made by a local designer, that’s a bonus! What are your thoughts on fast fashion versus slow fashion?
J: The older I get, the more adamant I get about it. I’m not from a fashion-at-large perspective. I think it’s always been part of the offering and you know, one cannot dismiss one for the other because you want to give your consumer a choice. My concern is just specifically in South Africa that there’s still education required and that we really, really need to support our local designers and that we have to start creating platforms. This is what we want to do with the salon where the “public” has the opportunity to really feel the quality of the fabric, to understand that a Lara Klawikowski dress is maybe R3000, but you buy into so much – you buy into an aesthetic, you buy into a love, you buy into her art. It’s an investment. It’s not just something that’s off the rack that you will wear and that you will discard. I want to cultivate a consciousness that if you start wearing designs, it’s actually not a fickle purchase. It’s a considered purchase. It’s okay to wear it every second day because you love it so much. If you buy an amazing stove or a piece of art, it’s something that you buy because it’s so beautiful and you want to look at it and you want to be surrounded by it. And it’s exactly the same when you start opening yourself up to buying proper design.
N: Owning a business in South Africa has its challenges. What advice would you give to someone wanting to start a business?
J: It’s incredibly challenging. I’m still also in the infancy/baby shoes stage. I think when you want to start your business, be open and see what’s available out there because it’s not necessarily the traditional system. I would always advise, if it’s within your means, and if you feel a little bit hesitant, to work with a credible business coach, because it really helps you, especially like in my case where I moved out of a support structure and I’m a sole proprietor – I’m on my own. It’s very important to have someone that you can speak to, like a sounding board. I still work with my business coach. She’s the person I go to when I think, “what have I done?”, or if I’m at a cul-de-sac. So it’s very important to be very realistic and not to give up. And also to know your strengths and weaknesses, and to be honest enough with yourself and to surrender the ego a bit because you might think you’re the best accountant in the world, for example, but also as your business develops it’s better to hand that over to somebody else and stick to what you’re really, really good at.
N: So, what’s next on the agenda for the fabulous Jackie Burger?
J: It’s almost six months since the launch of Salon 58 and I’m a bit overwhelmed, but I’m excited. You start with a business plan and then it becomes reality and I think I want to start filtering and understanding what’s happened to me and how can I take the immense generosity that’s come my way with this venture and how can I give it back. And hopefully by doing that we continue to cultivate platforms for people and hopefully an entrepreneurial energy that is a sharing one and a nurturing one, where people just start looking at business from a more selfless, more caring, let’s-support-each-other perspective in South Africa and Africa. That we take hands and we are incredibly supportive of each other. That would make me immensely happy.