Hyde Park’s state-funded luxury

2013-07-28 10:00

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A pair of infant socks by Baby Dior for R1?400 and an Alexander McQueen honeycomb jacket priced at R58?200.

That’s what you can buy at Khanyi Dhlomo’s new Luminance luxury store in the posh Joburg shopping mall, Hyde Park.

The store, styled like an art gallery, is modelled on the luxury boutiques of Paris and New York and boasts international labels such as Dior, Alexander McQueen, Marc Jacobs, Balenciaga and Hervé Léger.

There was a buzz in the shop on Friday afternoon as serious and curious shoppers toured the island of luxury where paintings and photographs by some of South Africa’s finest artists adorn the walls.

Away from the well-heeled customers in the private shopping rooms where stylists attend them, a war broke out on Twitter about the venture, which the National Empowerment Fund (NEF) has financed to the tune of R34.1?million.

Dhlomo and her mother Venetia are majority shareholders, while Dr Judy Dlamini, wife of First Rand CEO Sizwe Nxasana – believed to be the country’s highest-paid banker, with an estimated R45?million package – is another shareholder.

Soon after its official opening on Wednesday night, detractors took to Twitter to bemoan the money spent on the luxury store. @sqntshobane tweeted: “It’s just another terrible example of how the well-connected abuse state resources to get ahead.”

@stadathi added: “The NEF has funded a boutique to show off disposable luxury & imported designer labels. No empowerment there.”

But at the boutique on Friday, a weary Dhlomo said it felt wonderful to see her dream come true.

“We are still at the stage where we are testing, fixing and trying out things, so I’m here a lot. We have a strong team,” she said. “The reception has been amazing across gender and race groups and we look forward to having the men’s range next year.”

Luminance sells limited seasonal pieces from more than 70 brands, and ordinary shoppers may have to shell out a month’s salary for some of them.

But not every item is highly priced.

There are relative bargains – like a Diane von Furstenberg clutch for R2?900 and shoes from the Luminance Private Label for R4?900.

The shop is already attracting some of Africa’s wealthiest shoppers. One of Swaziland’s queens was spotted buying up Baby Dior outfits for a royal infant.

Celebrity choreographer Somizi Mhlongo was also spotted on Friday.

Perhaps anticipating the fallout, NEF CEO Philisiwe Mthethwa told guests at the launch that the time for a luxury store like Luminance had come and that the partners were themselves involved in the business.

NEF spokesperson Moemise Motsepe dismissed the criticism.

“There is no controversy as far as we are concerned. It is a legitimate investment that falls within our mandate, which is to facilitate black economic participation,” he said.

“This is the first major investment in a business owned by black women. They seek to transform a sector dominated by whites and foreign interests.”

The Dhlomos and Dlamini forked out R15?million of their own money after being turned down by other financiers.

The NEF put in R34.1?million. The largest investment they can make is R75?million. Motsepe said 58% of the money was used for the procurement of goods and services from local South African suppliers while 42% was used to source goods from international suppliers.

Locally produced items in the boutique include furniture exclusively designed by Pierre Cronje, ceramics from Cape Town and items from crafters in KwaZulu-Natal.

The store also has a library and coffee shop where one can enjoy exclusive teas from Yswara and Dammann Frères. There are also books on sale.

“It is estimated that the retail sector contributes 5.7% to South Africa’s GDP of R1.9 trillion. Black people in general and black women in particular constitute the majority of consumers in the sector, yet own a negligible share in ownership and control,” said Motsepe.

He said the loan was approved in August 2012 and that since Dhlomo’s pop-up store opened in April, they have already starting paying them back.

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