From tea to tracksuits: the granny who rocked adidas
It’s not every day that a grandmother is featured in an adidas campaign, but then again, it’s not often that a nice Jewish girl from Cape Town becomes a senior art director for that brand. Yet South African Jews always punch above their weight, and Kim Hoffenberg (32) has made it into this role in the Netherlands and taken her grandmother along for the ride.
Hoffenberg describes herself as “a born and bred Capetonian Jewess and RuPaul’s Drag Race enthusiast, with roots in Germany, Lithuania and the United Kingdom.”
On featuring her 92-year-old gran – who escaped the Holocaust – in her latest campaign, she says it has always been her goal to be age-inclusive and get her grandmother on screen. “I also really wanted to give her the chance to see herself for the stunner she is, and feel confident. If you’re blessed enough to still have ride-or-die grandparents in your life, I feel it’s important to show them that just because they are a certain age, it doesn’t mean they can’t still have new life experiences.”
Hoffenberg attended United Herzlia Schools and thereafter got a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Brand Communications at Vega School. “After my studies, I worked for a few years as a digital designer at South Africa’s largest digital agency, Native [now Native VML], and then moved with my partner to Amsterdam, where we have been happily living for the past nine years with our two cats and two bicycles.”
She works as a creative lead (otherwise known as a senior art director) at Studio A, which is adidas’s in-house creative agency. “My role is to lead teams in the conception and production of campaigns across all of adidas’ product categories,” she says. “I’ve been lucky to be able to bring my life-long fascination with fashion and my career together.”
So how did she get to where she is today? “When we set out for Amsterdam, I was feeling despondent about my career. I found that working as a designer involved too much solitude and didn’t invoke much passion from me,” she says. “Soon after arriving in Amsterdam, I took a job at Dutch fashion brand Scotch & Soda as a digital designer, with aspirations to become an art director. I enrolled in a course which I worked on in the evenings, with some of my work getting published. Eventually, Tommy Hilfiger offered me an art director position, where I spent many great years honing my craft, which finally led me to taking a creative lead position at adidas.”
Her grandmother, Ilsa Smeyatsky, “is an absolute inspiration to me. She’s seen the worst life can offer, yet she always has only kindness, a sharp wit, and a song to share. She’s now 92 years old, and still gives me a run for my money on any dance floor!
“Growing up in a small village outside of Cologne in the early 1930s was dangerous for her and her family,” says Hoffenberg. “Her father, Felix, caught a sense of the devastation that was to come as he ‘passed’ as Aryan in his looks, and was therefore able to pick up on conversations other Jews normally weren’t privy to. After spending much time unsuccessfully trying to convince his extended family to leave, he got himself, his wife, and his two daughters [one being my gran, who was seven years old at the time] on the last ship out of Germany, which happened to be headed for South Africa.
“From there, they endured hardship as they tried to make ends meet in Johannesburg. All of the family they left behind – all 11 siblings of my great-grandmother and extended family – were lost in the Holocaust. It’s crazy to think how that timely decision my great-grandfather made is the only reason I’m alive today.”
Asked if she has ever worked creatively with her gran before, Hoffenberg says, “I was always a creative kid and my gran encouraged this. She was my first patron and my first critic, treating my childish ‘girl going to shul’ fashion drawings as if they were fine works of art. The support continued as I grew up. She and my grandpa endured countless dancing competitions, drama plays, and violin concerts.
“As an adult, my gran continues to be my sage creative advisor, telling me that she feels that the fashion industry overlooks the elderly. This inspired me to become more age-inclusive in campaigns.
“It was only when I started working at adidas that I managed to achieve my long-term ambition to get Ilsa herself to star in a campaign. Look, my gran is gorgeous and has the most charming personality, so as soon as I heard we had the go-ahead to shoot in Cape Town for adidas Originals new streetwear collection, I asked her of she’d be interested in modelling for it.”
When Hoffenberg first asked her gran if she would be keen, “She agreed, but sort of brushed it off as a joke! It took me a while to convince her that I was serious. A chauffeur picked her up and she came to have her make-up and nails done, VIP style. All the while, she kept the crew enthralled with her stories, and conversed in her mother tongue with one of my German colleagues. When it was time for her shoot, she absolutely rocked it. She was the most low-maintenance model ever, who kept posing through gusts of wind and even a drizzle of rain!”
When Hoffenberg pitched the idea of adding her gran to a cast of “young local creatives of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, gender identities”, everyone was on board. On set, “My grandmother was warmly welcomed. They were fascinated to learn about her journey to South Africa, and she was equally fascinated to learn about ‘they/them’ pronouns.” The campaign should appear on ecommerce platforms and digital advertising spaces worldwide.
“I’ll always appreciate the Cape Town Jewish community for teaching me the value of family,” Hoffenberg says. “It’s because of its love, support, and encouragement that I was able to follow my dreams. Being from a Jewish community also inspired me to seek out my own community abroad. It’s always amazing to connect with another Jewish expat around the Shabbos table and break out into the same songs in spite of us coming from opposite sides of the globe. There’s an instant sense of common-ground which I owe to my upbringing.”
Her advice to other aspiring creatives is to “fill your portfolio with the type of work you want to attract, even if it’s made-up projects. Then make connections however you can. Even if that connection is your friend’s dad’s brother’s wife, reach out to them! Or go to events that attract the type of people you want to work with, and just be yourself.
“I’ve always found that my best career opportunities have come through social interactions and having a good vibe with someone. Invest time in creating a sharp cover letter that outlines your skill set and what you bring to the table in a straightforward and engaging way. Also, being a creative requires living a creative life. Inspiration and creative energy won’t stay nourished long if it’s being fed by looking at stuff on screens. You need to keep your brain refreshed by having new experiences, meeting new people, and trying new things.”