The Designers’ Designer

Fashion designer Marianne Fassler says we all have a responsibility to support South African design. And she’s walking the talk in a Cape Town apartment that is something of an ode to local design, craft and photography.

Anyone familiar with the ways of fashion designer Marianne Fassler will understand entirely how it came to be that, in selecting a Cape Town pied-à-terre, the choice of her and husband Charles Bothner was a spot in possibly the most unfashionable high-rise block of apartments in the City Bowl.

From leopard skin to Tretchikoff, clashing prints to dreadlocks, Marianne has always charted her own course in style, oblivious to the tastes and opinions of others. And just as her kiss of cool changed the fortunes of other lesser-loved fashions, I’m prepared to bet that Disa Park is about to enjoy a similar revival.

The three 17-storey towers that loom over the city from the slopes of Vredehoek have suffered various offending monikers over the years and there are those who believed from the start that the development was a blemish against their beloved mountain.

But according to Marianne Fassler, this extraordinary complex of apartments built by Murray and Roberts in the 1960s has a Corbusier-like functionality. The lifestyle offered by an old-style range of facilities from coin laundry to squash courts and garbage chutes, means that life in Disa Park is something of a retro-country-club affair.

Marianne and Charles bought their first apartment in Blinkwater, Disa Park, about nine years ago. They soon acquired the neighbouring one and now own a complete semicircle of Cape Town sky, with views from Robben Island to the mountain.

They decided from the start that this home would be a completely South African affair, with designs from all their favourite local designers. Dedicated art collectors, they also chose the Disa Park apartment to accommodate their growing collection of photographic art.

Structural changes were needed to connect the two apartments, and knocking down two steel-reinforced walls was the most challenging part of the process. Slasto was used on the floor to bring the outside in and as a reference to the apartment’s heritage.

From there it was over to the designers. Marianne herself is behind unique touches such as feature walls of exposed concrete and a wall of gold-leaf glass tiles that catches the sun streaming through the windows. She also commissioned the endless bar that spans the length of the living area from under-the-radar Cape Town carpenter Antonie Grobler.

The collection of earthy-toned iconic South African furniture started with the very first of Haldane Martin’s famed Songololo couches – made after he completed the prototype. It is one of the few that the designer has made in leather and its shape was ideal when faced with the challenge of a curved wall.

“When we bought the flat, we lived here for a while and then I invited a couple of designers to come and look at it and tell me what they could do for us,” Marianne recalls.

Haldane Martin is well represented and Marianne also has a special fondness for the animal-hide patchwork by Johno du Plessis in Caledon. Mielie’s interpretation of the Bat Chair that caught everyone’s attention at Decorex Joburg earlier this year now resides in Marianne and Charles’ lounge.

Nods to the era in which the apartment block was built are several pieces of Edoardo Villa sculpture and a Tizio bedside lamp.

Marianne says that in creating the contemporary lifestyle she and Charles were after, she was inspired by the sensuous style of Eileen Grey, the eccentric Corbusier scholar and Modern Movement pioneer who was renowned for her exotic and secretive interiors as well as the use of metallics.

While I am interviewing her, Marianne gets a call from the artist Joni Brenner who is ready to deliver a piece they acquired at the FNB Art Fair. Marianne says she and Charles will continue to buy South African designs and photographic art for the apartment but explains the difference between consumption and collecting.“We are beyond buying things to fill our walls. You buy art because you can’t live without it.”

Marianne is not a consumer. An avid recycler and reuser, she loves old and prefers to buy something that comes with a sense of provenance. “I would never be able to furnish a space from a shop with all new pieces,” she says.

Marianne yearns for South Africans to support the local design industry.

“If we don’t, we simply can’t blame the industry when it becomes consumer driven and full of goods from China.” V

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