A few weeks ago, on an otherwise insignificant day such as this one, I received the invitation to attend the latest soirée from Salon 58 – Trace.
A curated cultivation and celebration of creativity, Salon 58 is the magnum opus of style doyenne Jackie Burger, begun after paying a visit to the salon of Coco Chanel at 31 Rue Cambon in Paris. Wanting to offer an unforgettable experience for the likeminded, Jackie harnessed the spirit of France’s salonnières by creating a space that showcases a combination of beauty, fashion, decor and food – all culminating in her famous tête-à-tête discussions. Essentially Salon 58 is a space where those united in the appreciation of art in it’s myriad forms can be informed, entertained and educated in a convivial atmosphere.
Attended by writers, thinkers and artists – or at least a carefully selected representation of Cape Town’s media elite – my excitement at making the cut was only topped by my bewilderment at what I was to wear.
The eleventh soirée of it’s kind, Salon 58 Trace centred on the friendship between Jackie and South Africa’s only Michelin Starred chef, Jan Hendrik van der Westhuizen. Both raised in a rural Afrikaans setting, they have a shared love of fashion, food and the consultancy of fresh creative talent. Cue a return to their roots through stories, ingredients and conversation that culminated in a fashion show and exclusive tasting of a dish of Jan Hendrik’s own design.
Held in an abandoned tannery in the small Western Cape town of Wellington, the location was truly one to inspire imagination. The agrarian backdrop of wheatfields and a brooding mountain range juxtaposed with the red brick, industrial steel windows and aged concrete of the tannery made for a dramatic atmosphere, aided by the eerily empty space, each corner liberally draped in thick cobwebs. Built in 1871 by a businessman out of Yorkshire, the tannery is the second oldest in South Africa and provided jobs to hundreds of Wellington residents for almost two centuries. Due to changing technical developments, the tannery closed it’s doors several years ago and relocated elsewhere. Left behind was a sprawling network of industry, built from red clay brick and featuring architectural details endemic to factories built after the Industrial Revolution. Massive mullioned windows, steel girders and the iconic smokestack make the tannery instantly recognisable whilst it’s authenticity is retained through acid burns on the concrete floor, the occasional blemish of graffiti and missing panels in the vaulted roof, through which families of birds fly freely and nest in the emaciated eaves.
While the romantic in me adores the tannery in all of it’s dilapidated spookiness, reality dictates that without the intervention of funding and a rediscovered purpose, the landmark would surely succumb to vandalism, the elements or most sinister of all – the luxury condominium developer. Fortuitously, it has avoided all three and since been taken over by a collective of free-thinking individuals that have breathed new life into the twilight zone. Enter The Old Tannery – a business plan that intends to combine the local agricultural trade with restaurants, wine, craft beer and whisky-tasting, a country market and an event space.
The latter was where Salon 58’s Parisian-inspired market was held along with a food theatre taste experience that introduced guests to Jan Hendrik’s fare – each dish created from ingredients that have shaped his journey to star status. Ever the expert at outfitting her Armoire, Jackie offered up her selection of beauty, fashion and decor brands that included Africology, decor from Masquerade, the sketches of Lucie de Moyencourt, Plan B Vintage, flowers by BLOMBOY and Orms Print Room. For the epicurean, edible attractions were made of the aforementioned ingredients – Chrysanthemum, Milk, Watermelon and Mealies (sweetcorn). With recipes devised by Jan Hendrik and executed by Slippery Spoon Kitchen, it was a prerequisite to sample each one. Personal favourites included the Malva Pudding with aster custard, vanilla bean and honeycomb ice cream and dehydrated yoghurt, the Savoury Melkkos (a kind of soft dough noodle) in a Pecorino bêchamel with a soft organic egg yolk, breadcrumbs, nutmeg, truffle oil, onion seeds and gold leaf and the Mieliepap Panna Cotta with boerenkaas, biltong mousse and caramelised onion essence. Fresh bread was supplied by Schoon whilst top tipple came from Clemengold citrus gin, Haute Cabrière and Graham Beck Wines.
This most elegant of exchanges took place beneath fairy lights that had been festooned through the singed insulation and skeletal rafters of the tannery – highlighting once again the striking correlation between old and new. Not to be outdone, the fashion show was held in a separate section of the tannery. Cathedral-esque in size and eerily beautiful, the warehouse had been transformed with floating crystal chandeliers and a lengthy table, dressed in antique white and bearing the warm weight of a thousand candles. Guests took their seats facing outwards from the table and with a hiss of smoke from a hidden machine, the show began. Produced by Deon Redman, the collection was an appreciation of monochromatic design that was impressive in its extremes – the styles showcased managing to be both sensual and austere, stark yet maximalist, masculine but feminine. Gothic volume paired with cinched waists, fascinators, cruelly pointed brogues and utilitarian cuts all displayed in the flickering half-light of the candles gave the show an ethereal ambiance, added to by the muted sunlight struggling to shine through a few decades worth of dust. Dickens’ Miss Havisham would most certainly have approved.
My own choice of attire was hardly as exotic as I had the unfortunate timing of still being on crutches. Needless to say I went simple and paired an architectural-sleeved blouse with silk culottes from my label FORTUNE and a pair of Country Road slides. Here’s hoping I’ll be invited to the next Salon 58 experience and not have to hobble around. Having an ankle injury at the same time as a new camera is not fun – I felt as if I was at a buffet of all my favourite foods; only with my hands tied behind my back.
To culminate the evening, we dined on another of Jan Hendrik’s exquisite offerings – this time a dessert that consisted of a sago pudding encased in meringue, surrounded by heavy cream and finished off with a dusting of powdered hibiscus dust and paired with a Pierre Jourdan Ratafia from Haute Cabrière. Jackie’s closing address of how precious heritage, home and family ties are resonated with me – especially at this time of year – and had me thinking about my own roots. This particular event with it’s theme of reminisce and rebirth, held in a place where history has been visualised, awakened within me an oxymoronic sense of nostalgic anticipation; I want to know where I’ve come from, so that I can see where I’m going.
In Salon 58 contributor Alwijn of BLOMBOY’s own words:
“We reminisce on past meeting present, we revive and re-contextualise experiences and we celebrate memories of our roots. We invite you to reflect, enjoy and indulge in a celebration of your own trace elements”.
The following morning I awoke to the sound of rain pattering softly on the eaves of the guesthouse I spent the weekend at. Did the previous evening really happen or had I dreamed it? The sight of my rumpled party clothes, still smelling of woodsmoke and CK One meant that the magic had indeed taken place. The only problem now was how to return to normal life where abandoned factories, floating chandeliers and everlasting tables filled with candles were not a daily occurrence.