Simon and Mary is the Johannesburg-based millinery brand that’s set to launch a little later this year. It’s also a family story that spans two continents, seventy years and four generations; it’s a tale about love and the legacy of hats. We chatted to Dean Pozniak, youngest member of this millinery lineage and the driving force behind the Simon and Mary brand about the past, the future, and the absolutely stunning all-Joburg AW/14 lookbook.
Who is Simon and Mary, and where does the name come from?
Simon and Mary are my beloved grandparents. I decided to name the brand after my grandfather Simon the original milliner and my grandmother Leah whom he affectionately nicknamed Mary after reading the novel War and Peace written by Tolstoy. Today Simon and Mary is made up of Simon’s son Julian (my father), Alfred Manyoni (Simon’s right hand man), the factory and its staff compliment and myself Dean (Simon’s grandson). The factory stands today as it did over half a century ago and is the essential element that pumps steam through the brand that is Simon and Mary.
Simon and Mary has a 70-year heritage; please tell us a little about this millinery family affair…
Simon and Mary is a heritage brand established in 1935. The hat roots were first planted in South Africa when Mordechai Pozniak (Simon’s father) brought his cap factory from Poland to Johannesburg. Simon Pozniak eventually took the leading role in the company and grew it into one of Africa’s most renowned wool felt hat manufacturing plants. Simon’s wife Leah (Mary) joined the business working alongside Simon and attending to all non-manufacturing needs. In 1973, Simon’s youngest son, Julian, eagerly entered the family business with Robert his oldest son joining in 1988. Today a fourth generation Pozniak, myself Dean, who entered the business in 2008, heads the brand & factory with the aim of continuing the legacy created by Simon.
As fourth generation milliner, how will you be merging the traditions of your grandfather’s craft and legacy with your own contemporary styles and design?
I walk into the factory every day, the same factory Simon built up over the years. The machinery he purchased from Italy in the 60’s is still there in working order, blocks we have been using for decades are all still functional and relevant in today’s fashion world. Using all of this I have brought a young creative aspect to the factory whereby I am using our old machinery, but adding a modern day twist to the finishes of the hats. Our Traditional Range is made up of actual styles that Simon himself produced and with the introduction of the RAW and Safari ranges being the contemporary add-on. In saying that I have also been fortunate enough to have a mentor, a man who has been working at the factory for 60 years, someone I have known my whole life, who knew my grandfather like a brother. Alfred Manyoni has been at the factory longer then the machinery, he knows everything about producing a hat and together with him it has been an experience I could have only ever wished for. My father (Julian) has been at the factory for 40 years, and to have him, someone Alfred mentored all those years ago, building this project with me is a true honour. The fact that we are making hats in the year 2014 on the same premises, with the same machinery and with the same classic flair that Simon did, is in itself the biggest tribute to the original milliner, my grandfather.
The AW/14 lookbook occupies a beautiful meeting point between bygone eras and contemporary elegance. Please tell us more about the Simon and Mary aesthetic…
My grandfather Simon was a classic man, never following the crowd blindly. He was always dressed sharply and donning his signature bowtie. Simon was a humble and hardworking man who lived life by two quotes which encapsulate the Simon and Mary brand. These are:
“Let the fox be full and the sheep be whole”, and
“Don’t be scared to let the other man make a living”.
These principles have influenced the Simon and Mary aesthetic which can be best described as understated sophistication with vintage hand crafted flair; always modest but with signature style.
Rather than professional models, the AW/14 lookbook features a selection of Joburg natives and creatives. What do each of these individuals capture or personify that relates to what Simon and Mary is all about?
The creative duo Jana and Koos have worked closely with Simon and Mary – creating the branding and art directing the awesome AW14 shoot. We all agree that the hats being made here in Johannesburg is one of the brand’s most genuine and appealing aspects. It was therefore a natural progression to shoot the AW14 campaign with young professionals, hat lovers, sartorialists, curators, creative spirits, entrepreneurs and artists rather than traditional models. We felt it important to not only utilize but to showcase notable places within the city, as it is a culturally diverse melting pot with a rich history.
Simon and Mary has been invited to showcase at Bread and Butter in Berlin next week (congrats!). Please tell us a little about what this means for the brand, as well as how this will establish/relate to the brand’s local positioning…
Bread and Butter Berlin is an extraordinary platform to launch Simon and Mary due to its credibility as a fashion showcase. The brand will be viewed by distributors and retailers worldwide giving us a great opportunity to show the world what we, and the rest of South Africa, has to offer. There are currently many brands and loads of talented designers in our country and we are hoping that in the near future the number of South African brands representing at Bread and Butter and the likes will increase. The brand is driven by the motto “Made in Johannesburg”; we are proud of where we come from and want to show the world what South Africa has to offer in the fashion industry.
You describe hats as ‘a way of life’; how do you see the millinery craft fitting in to today’s world?
“A hat is a way of life” for my family stems from each generation growing up surrounded by exactly that, hats. Millinery is something we have all been born into and will continue to pass down for generations to come. A hat in old times represented a person’s status but in today’s culture it signifies your style.
And lastly (for now, but most importantly): when and where will people be able to get their hands on a Simon and Mary creation?
Photography by Aimee Pozniak and Gareth Place
Art direction by Jana and Koos