‘It’s a nice one…” intones a man about no particular garment. This is just what he does. It’s all men selling here and the one manning the stall does the laying out, price giving, the advice. I suppose the intoning man is the encourager.
The main man at this stall is Simon, urbane, with the resigned air of someone whose passion this is not. I’ve been here often, looking for someone as approachable as he. This time Pawel is here too. I recognise two teens leaning against the wall. I suspect they identify the suspicious, looking a little furtive themselves. I don’t know why I’m calling these stalls because they are just areas of coats and boots on ground covers or fold-up tables, on one side of what the salesmen call President Street.
“It’s this part from Fraser, across the next road, to Harrison Street,” identifies Simon. “We have our suppliers,” he says more evasively when I ask where these clothes come from. Actually they are from places like Italy, France, Germany; the labels are MaxMara, Hugo Boss, Ugg and many I don’t know.
Simon proffers a beautiful, new-looking brown coat, a floor sweeper with a hood and billowing hem, something Jane Eyre might flit around in. It’s R70. A sedge-coloured rough tweed, shorter coat is also R70. Everything is, except for the boots. “Is it for a man or a woman?” I ask. The piles include clothes for both. “For a woman.”
Simon stares incredulously: “Don’t you know women’s clothes’ fastenings from men’s?” He’s from Nigeria and says the only people that would willingly talk to me are other Nigerians in the next block. Others I try are South Africans and a terrified Malawian. “We don’t want to be pictures,” a South African tells Pawel.
Down the street I touch a satin dressing gown. Another woman takes it up, puts it on, doing a twirl. A suede and denim peacock-lined jacket with embroidered revers is tried on by many men. For me, I buy an olive parka for a man, with missing buttons and a dud zip but it’s R50.
The label reads Conferione Sportive. “…It’s a nice one,” recites a President man, who’s a Dolly Rathebe man, since the name changed years ago.