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Magic at the Durban July

Two dozen years ago Karen Monk-Klijnstra took part in her first Durban July as an invited designer – a superb platform to express her creative fire. And she’s still creating magic!

“I have always loved and adored being involved in the Durban July … mostly because there are no restrictions to my creative license. And here I am again, embracing not only 24 years at this prestigious event, but 30 years in fashion, 20 years in business and celebrating a golden era! It’s a year I’ve been waiting for … to reinvent myself for the reinventing of the July!”

No stranger to one of Africa’s greatest horseracing events, Karen will be adding her colour-drenched, textured, adventurous and eclectic feel to the wonderful line-up of designers that will ensure the Hollywoodbets Durban July Invited Designer Showcase will be a very memorable event.

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Extremely excited to be involved with this institution on the SA racing, entertainment and fashion calendar, Karen has seen it grow and gain momentum from Rothmans to Vodacom and now Hollywoodbets.

Photo: Tilanie Grote Photography

The fierce fashion lover and mother of four who describes herself as a creative over-thinker with an insatiable desire for expression, and who attempts to try to make the world a better place through her craft, throws caution to the wind when it comes to seasonal trends.
“I listen to my heart when it comes to fashion. One has to be stirred emotively to inspire, but I love any opportunity to create magic.”

She has penchant for bright, visual and almost edible textures and colours, and loves to experiment with unexpected and wild combinations. Plums, berries, magenta and chartreuse are some of the winter shades currently inspiring the award-winning designer, as are scarlet, violet and turquoise.

“I am blessed to have been born to a family of creatives. My maternal grandmother, a gifted couturier, immigrated to South Africa in the 1930s, met my grandfather, fell in love, married and produced four daughters. My mother is their third daughter and was taught the most incredible skills. She is supremely talented.”

Karen says she has the most enormous respect for the preservation of old school skill and eagerly shares what she has learnt with the new generations of design.

“Nothing fuels me more than to inspire belief in raw talent. And this I owe to my family. My parents encouraged me to reach for the stars – the greatest gift you can give another human – and I endeavour to do this with my own family.

“2022 marks 30 years since I graduated. A journey of great adventures, opportunities and freedom of expression. I have learnt so much on this traverse in fashion, I have worked on many platforms, both commercially and artistically, I have travelled extensively and been in the wonderful position to make contacts and friends from all walks of life. I am a firm believer that one’s destiny is mapped out ahead and I have no doubt that my fashion journey has unfolded exactly as God planned for me, and will continue to as long as I am blessed to breathe and beyond.”

A sneak preview of Karen’s 2022 Invited Designer Showcase creations modelled by Maia, Siya and Anouk (Extreme Model Management). Photo: Sean Laurenz Hair: Claire Swart, Make up: Aldytha da Silva, Hats: Maggie Rider, location: Max’s Lifestyle Centre

Karen says that turning 50 this year is also something that has brought great perspective.

“I still feel 18. I have always preferred to see the world, and opportunity to be creative, through the eyes of a child. I am opposed to jaded outlooks and simply refuse to accept that life’s curveballs make one anything less. They are wonderful learning curves and designed for growth. 50 means I’ve had 50 beautiful years to become who I am – a proud woman, wife, mother, friend, child, teacher and student.”

As for her participation in this year’s Durban July, the fashion veteran sees the opportunity as an adventure and an avenue to give fashion lovers a window into her soul!

“I am hungry to drink in the renewed energy after the Covid hiatus. The Hollywoodbets story is one of enormous inspiration and proof that dreaming big from very humble beginnings is what we need to do. Their commitment to worthy causes and humanity speaks straight into my heart and our visions are very definitely aligned. I am not holding back and giving it my all.”

Originally, as the marketing teams at Gold Circle and Hollywoodbets dropped the clues to this year’s theme, Show me the Honey, Karen says it conjured up imagery of photographic garden prints, colour, buzz and energy. “Right up my alley!” she laughs.

“I have drawn on the theme and the treasure from the hive. So the honey … liquid gold. And the brilliance of pollination and the colour frenzy of jewels in our gardens, as a separate tongue-in-cheek statement. I am also playing with the word ‘hunnies’ as in gorgeous young things bedecked in fabrics and finery and a ‘Queen B’ rock video. I’ve focussed on the Queen, Marie Antoinette style that’s over the top, and her worker bees, as rock star mafia. I also involved Maggie Rider in the exquisite hats created especially for the theme. She is beyond amazing!”

Following on from the celebratory milestones, Karen’s daughters Anouk and Maia, at a staggering 1,86m and 1,79m respectively, are booked as her models, alongside a strapping young lad named Siya.

Advice for fashion lovers contemplating their race day ensemble … remember that comfort is key.

The spirited designer warns race goers that “Despite being very impractical, July day is long. Your choices should be a reflection of your soul and an extension of yourself and you should not be wincing in pain or limping home. Consider who and what you are and celebrate that with a nod to the theme! Prepare to dazzle and be dazzled on race day!”


Having been run behind closed doors for the past two years, the newly dubbed Hollywoodbets Durban July (on July 2) welcomes fans back to the 126th running of the iconic horse race, vibrantly themed “Show Me The Honey”. Limited general tickets, that’ll get you a front row view of the racing action from the grandstand and track-side lawns, live DJ performances, and runway and public fashion competitions, are available at Computicket and participating Shoprite stores for R230. Spectators are encouraged to use the Drop & Go facility at Gate 12. Parking tickets for the golf course with access via DLI Avenue are available on Computicket at R170 a car. Details: www.hollywoodbets.net


Flashing back to the past two, almost three decades of Durban July themes, Karen says she’s loved and embraced every one of them equally.


“For my love of theatrics, I was given My Fair Lady and I took great delight in turning the flower seller into an icon. We also created the most spectacular OTT hat, mom and I. This was also the first showcase I won!”

Karen Monk Klijnstra’s garment, modelled by Dominique Mann (Ice Models). Photo Vaughn Treyvellan/ Gameplan Media


“Inspired by the wedding of Kate and William, I took this on a wonderful offbeat Burtonesque Goth vibe, also channelling Sweeny Todd.  I bought tweeds that were donated to the Hillcrest Aids Centre trust, and used wirework made by the artists at Woza Moya. This resulted in iconic images and cemented my support of worthy causes and collabs with local artists.”


“I created a Bird of Paradise – a magical African-inspired flight of fancy. I was pregnant with my eldest, Anouk. Last year, some 19 years later, her final art prac exam featured her in that outfit, in a nod to original fashion and a social comment on global warming and the plight facing the fashion industry. Truly special to win, and honoured to have it feature in my child’s art.”

Karen Monk-Klijnstra (second from right) with her ensemble modelled by Sune, Keanu and Chrystal. Photo Vaughn Treyvellan/ Gameplan Media


An ode to Frida Kahlo. “Most other designers used a black and white theme, olde worlde style. I was defiant, explosive colour drenched finery. Bedecked in jewellery, Afro-Latin vibes and gorgeous models who all channelled the quintessential Frida. When the strains of the music started and the models strode out, it was met with a thunderous applause. And people stood up when they realised who I paid tribute to. I learnt later that that particular July fell on Frida’s birthday! No coincidences in life.”

 EZULWENI – 1999

Loosely translated means ‘Of the Heavens’. “I am hugely inspired by the gift of the daily sunset and sunrise. I channelled the colours of the warm sunrise and the cool patchwork of dreams that is the night sky. Boun – my husband and fiercest critic and fan, wired a stiff petticoat with circuits, and we switched on LED lights for every showcase evening, reflecting the stars. It was epic!”


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