Dashing Diaan’s Domain
Diaan always knew he was different. His parents often worked, so he regularly stayed with his grandmother who influenced his creative side. His grandmother was always doing needlework and introduced him to this craft.
“I always knew when I was little that there was something in the arts for me. I knew I was going to do something bigger. I did not know exactly what I was going to do, but I knew I was going to achieve something great.”
Luckily for Diaan, his parents were liberal and let him explore his creative side. His father, who has always been self-employed, influenced his entrepreneurial business side. “We can’t work for other people because we take over, we just have the drive in us.” Diaan’s mother has been by his side in his business for the past 20 years doing his admin and financials, playing an integral part in its growth since the beginning.
After completing matric, Diaan had the option to study drama and dance in Pretoria, and at the very last minute he decided that the fashion route was more what he wanted to pursue. “I did not want to be a struggling artist. That is not the life I saw for myself. I had a passion for both, but fashion was ultimately stronger and luckily I realised that just in time.” In the first month of his studies he made his niece’s wedding gown, with a little help of course.
“In my first year of studies the lecturers said only 1% or maybe none of us would make it in the fashion industry. I took this as a direct challenge. If you have the passion for it you will make it work,” he says.
“I had a passion for drama, dance and fashion, but the fashion one was stronger and luckily I realised that just in time.”
Diaan became so engrossed with succeeding, he did not even finish his second year. He became too busy with clients. He admits that his big break can’t be pinpointed to one specific moment. “It takes people in your life who believe in you to help you get to this point. It’s not a road that you travel alone. It’s other people’s sacrifices which lead to success. It is the person who maybe does something very small, which opens up more doors for you”.
“During my first year I was invited by Annaline Victor Model Agency to judge model competitions and give inspirational advice to her students. After that it was up to me what I did with that opportunity. I went into making matric gowns and then bridal gowns and eventually became involved with organising the bridal expo.”
When he heard that actress Brümilda van Rensburg was coming to town he decided to make her a garment, hoping this would make her notice his work. “She remembered me and later on invited me to Jo’burg. We had lunch and I dressed her for a few events and she introduced me to the industry.”
After feeling he had conquered the Bloemfontein fashion industry, Diaan packed his belongings into his Mini Cooper and moved in with a friend in Johannesburg. “I had a vision of the future. After many years of being in the frontline of the bridal industry in Bloemfontein and being known as a bridal designer, I decided then and there that Johannesburg would be my fresh start.”
Diaan realised there was a lack of fashion designers catering for bespoke men’s suits. He tells how the first guy he dressed was Heinz Winkler. He stepped on stage and Kurt Darren asked him where he got his outfit. Word of mouth spread and Diaan went on to do Kurt Darren’s and Bobby van Jaarsveld’s wedding suits within the same week, which were both featured in Huisgenoot and Top Billing, followed by Loyiso Bala, and many rugby players.
It has not all been smooth sailing and the success came with a price. When Kurt Darren, Bobby van Jaarsveld, Flip van der Merwe and Andries Strauss all got married in one month and most of them were featured on Top Billing, Huisgenoot and You magazines, Diaan had a set-back.
“I always thought I was ready for the limelight, but I did not know the impact it would have on me. I received all that attention and unending phone calls. I was overwhelmed and something chemically in me just switched. That very same week I was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with anxiety disorder. It took this one scenario, which was no one’s fault, to kickstart a life long struggle.”
Over the years Diaan has found the right medication balance. He realised he is more likely to become anxious when he is idle. “I take very little medication, but you have to get your mind right and talk about it and find what works for you because it’s always going to be there,” he says.
With the support of his family and friends, Diaan has thrived in the industry. He admits that his husband, interior designer and event planner, Shaun Brian Murphy, has played a much bigger role than that of a life partner. “Shaun is my business partner and created the opportunity for me to return home to my Bloemfontein roots. Having been together for ten years and married for four, we are very lucky to also work very well together. He is a jack of all trades and he created the Diaan Daniels brand we see today in both Johannesburg and Bloemfontein.”
Diaan’s future projects include continuing with the reality show My Droom-trourok on VIA (DStv Channel 147), a cameo appearance in The Furnace – an upcoming movie directed by the Oscar-nominated director Darryl Roodt, as well as travelling South Africa with live appearances and designing his 2019 wedding collection.
Diaan has come full circle after starting his career in Bloemfontein and returning back home to where it all began.
Favourite person you have dressed: Cindy Swanepoel
Favourite international designer: Ellie Saab
Favourite clothing item/accessory: Denim
Best advice for choosing a bridal gown/suit: Don’t please your family, please yourself.
Best thing about being a Bloemfontein citizen: Everything is five minutes away and the people are amazing and real.