How could I show my gratitude to my idol for his vision, wisdom and willingness to sacrifice for others?
Fashion designer Claudia Pegus asked the question when she learned that former South African President, Nelson Mandela, was stopping over in Trinidad & Tobago in May 2004 on his way to an important Confederation of North, Central American & Caribbean Associations of Soccer (CONCACAF) congress in Grenada.
Like many around the world, Pegus admires Mandela’s courage, strength, determination and leadership.
“Naturally, I was so elated when I heard he was coming that I wanted to be in his presence and also (to give) him a piece of me,” Pegus told Share while in Toronto’s for last Saturday night’s Trinidad & Tobago’s Heritage Group Cuttin’ Style Fashion show. “He made huge sacrifices and he showed us what it meant to stand firm for your beliefs.”
Pegus contacted Austin “Jack” Warner, the then CONCACAF president and International Soccer Federation (FIFA) vice-president who was responsible for convincing Mandela to visit T & T, with a request to present two of her custom-designed shirts to South Africa’s first Black president at a luncheon at the Hilton Trinidad & Conference Centre.
Due to a mix-up with the event co-ordinators, Mandela left T & T without Pegus fulfilling her wish.
However, Warner arranged for the shirts to be delivered a few days later to Mandela when he was in Switzerland for FIFA’s announcement that South Africa would host the 2010 soccer World Cup.
“Jack delivered on his promise and he had pictures taken with Mandela receiving the shirts which he sent back with a note from Mandela saying I could use those pictures for any promotion that I did,” said Pegus. “That made up for me not getting to shake his hand and personally making the presentation even though I was in his presence in Trinidad. That has been one of the highlights in my life.”
As one of the Caribbean’s top fashion designers, Pegus has had many high points in a distinguished career nearing four decades.
Her passion for fashion was inspired by her aunt, who was a seamstress.
“I loved her so much to the point that I idolized her and I wanted to do what she did,” said Pegus. “I remember ripping apart my mom’s pillow slips, sheets and curtains and making clothes for my dolls. All my recollections of my days as a child are playing with cloth and clothes. I don’t have any recollections of playing games or anything like that. Fashion is me and I love what I do.”
To hone her skills, Pegus headed to Spain, which is famous for its clothing brands catering to cosmopolitan fashion needs.
“I wanted to achieve my maximum potential in fashion, so I needed to be trained by the best,” she said. “That meant I had to travel and experience cultures and different interpretations of what fashion represents. My travels were based on educating myself on various aspects of the industry.”
Pegus, who also spent time in Germany and other European countries, used the extensive knowledge and skills acquired overseas to open Claudia Pegus Designs Limited, which is an exclusive niche market design/production company that produces lines featuring haute couture and ready wear and career apparel for retail and wholesale purchases by boutiques, hotels, resorts and corporations.
She has also been an integral part of Caribbean Fashion Week, started 12 years ago as a platform for mainly emerging and established designers to showcase their work.
“Caribbean Fashion Week gave us the earliest and widest exposure that was required for us to be noticed by the international press,” said Pegus. “It’s a marketing tool for us and it opened different avenues and allowed us to position our product.”
This was Pegus’ fourth visit to Toronto.
“It’s not a city that I know very well, but it’s one I love,” she said. “I see a lot of Europe here…It’s a place where I have received a lot of warmth and love and I have many close friends, including Joan Pierre (she collaborated in hosting last weekend’s show). I love the connection with the Caribbean Diaspora here and Toronto is a place I would really like to sell my clothes.”
In April 2012, Pegus was the victim of a robbery as she was about to enter her Fort George home.
A knife-wielding bandit stole cash, a laptop computer, two iPads and her cell phones before ordering her to drive him to a secluded area where he escaped.
Despite the ordeal, she said she did not fear for her life and she has never considered relocating to another country.
“Trinidad & Tobago is my home and my heart is in the Caribbean,” said Pegus. “In fact, I felt sympathy for the young man that did this to me and I wanted to understand why the only means of obtaining something he needed was through crime. I told him he could take anything he wanted without harming me. As I was driving him, he said he didn’t want to hold me up and take away my property, but he had no choice. He also asked me what religion I was and when I told him Catholic, he said he was a Catholic too. That experience told me that these young people just don’t need to be locked up. They need someone to listen to them and step into their shoes and try to understand their lives and why they do what they do.”
Pegus returned home last Monday.
By RON FANFAIR