These days, the key to successful design is appropriation rather than invention. Heritage, be it personal or collective, becomes a font that rejuvenates designers by giving them not only the visual clues, but also the craftsmanship for their work. Point in case, Italo-Haitian designer Stella Jean has metabolized her dual heritage to strike the right note between the contemporary need for sophisticated silhouettes, and prints and handicrafts clearly “ethnic”. On the runway, the result feels anything but folkloric.
Tellingly, her opening silhouette was a sports jersey emblazoned with Jamaica (Port-au-Prince followed up on the next look) tucked into a long skirt. From the start, Jean’s designs show themselves to be firmly rooted in the kind of street-worthy flair that women want today, everywhere. And that is the driving force of her work: unwinding the beauty of designs inspired by an exotic - by Western standards - heritage and giving them a more universal retelling through collections that have steadily gained traction over the seasons.
Again this season, Jean’s repertoire of fabrics expanded beyond printed cotton, just enough to wow her audience with the richness of an embroidered satin finish on a full skirt. Her bold pattern mixing is no stranger to the runways, thanks to the continuing love story with vivid, complex prints. There is an appealing naiveté to her work, as evidenced in a long shirtdress adorned with the dense, lightly colored low-rise thickets of buildings as seen in tropical cities. It takes an apt hand pairing a wide stripe with a whimsical sardine print and making it feel right in Brighton, Boston or Bamako. The key to this was the light tailoring that gave impeccable polish to this sunny narrative.
As her swimsuit-clad troupe closed the show, it was clear what Jean’s true talent is: taking the far-away and re-mastering it into something intensely familiar.