An Ode to Caribbean Self-Awareness

IMG_0897-1Shop The Runway: Gillian E Designs available at ShopCaribbeanFashion.com 

“Fashion is not something that exists in verses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street… fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”

Coco Chanel

           Though consistent in its impact, its ability to pique interest, desire, disgust even, fashion is by nature ever-changing…and yet it manages to maintain a common thread – its brilliance in creating beautiful pieces from the most basic of inspirations. It is for this reason that Caribbean Fashion Week (CFW) – the region’s first major fashion production – remains a celebrated calendar event, pulling fashion followers and global media to the National Indoor Sports Centre in Kingston, Jamaica, each year to absorb the latest runway offerings. It’s no secret that Caribbean culture and fashion – especially Jamaican – have a far-reaching impact on the wider world, and as such, the 14-year-old show is always on the hot list of international fashion events to attend. Our fashion incorporates a kaleidoscope of cultural influences spanning the continents and weaves it all together with what makes us unique – our edge, spirit and survival instinct.

cfw 01Glam: Model Diedre’ Mckenzie at the Fashion Gala at Audi Showroom in Jamaica 

cfw 05Budding: Up-and-coming designer Kurt Campbell 

You never know just what you’ll get on and off the CFW runway. You can find anything from a taste of Asia, to remnants of European colonisation, gothic influences, pieces inspired by our biodiverse environs, dancehall music and the hustle and bustle of life in the streets. This year was a bit different. Black, white and red were staples in a number of collections shown last Saturday and Sunday. So, too were tropical prints, dancehall influences, and yes, the bubble hem is back. And, of course the newly introduced shopcaribbeanfashion.com website, launched at Saturday’s show which presents the opportunity to shop the collections right away.

cfw 06 Stunners stand out: Pulse Model Alyssa Wells

What spoke to us most was the message, be it stated or implied, in the collections that charmed us with playfulness and reeled us in with a call to action. There was an unwitting synergy of sorts, a shared consciousness with the designers for the two-night showcase where the emergence of the self-loving, culturally aware Caribbean individual was celebrated. It was all about Afrocentrism and ethnic pride drawn from a melting pot of diverse cultural influences. On the runway – Pulse’s striking Sue-Dionne Lewis, internationally acclaimed Pulse model-come-actor Oraine Barrett, fresh-faced visitor Vanessa Davidson (a Jamaican based in New York City), and ComplexdWoman darling Grenadian model Aria Francis, (whose Nell Robinson-reminiscent glide we absolutely adore) – were among those representing that fact. It was a declaration of ultimate ‘Caribbeanness’ and African awareness illustrated by emerging and established designers from the Caribbean, UK, Canada, America and Benin. Here are our picks for the most effective messengers at CFW 2014.

complexdwoman magazineNew Face: Grenadian Model Aria Francis getting some industry tips from Jamaican Supermodel Oraine Barrett

Yvonne Jewnell

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This year’s winner of the Caribbean Fashion Week Emerging Designer Award, 17-year-old Parsons graduate Yvonne Jewnell, jetted in from New York to make her mark on the CFW runway. Her unique collection of beaded, hand-painted fabrics in neutral tones and pops of red featured unconventional silhouettes, which, despite being influenced by many cultures was mired in black identity. Little wonder she rose to the top of a pool of nine hopefuls to claim the award.

Ochun

Guadelopean designer Anicee Martin’s elegant collection paid homage to Yoruban Orisha Ochun, the goddess of love, intimacy, beauty and wealth. We loved the understatedly opulent prints and effortlessly seductive fabric movement. She managed to present a well-edited package around the theme, simultaneously incorporating elements of traditional Guadelopean dress with hints of gold, lively colours and layering.

Alicia Mullings

There was no mistaking the powerful black historical symbolism in British designer Alicia Mullings’ collection, starring Marcus Garvey and prints featuring imagery of African queens for good measure. Her wide leg tailored pants, midi skirts and bomber jackets were well received.

Vain Glory – Old Harbour Babe

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Jamaican designer Jehan Jackson debuted her Vain Glory collection with a resort wear line dubbed Old Harbour Babe in reference to Old Harbour, St Catherine, Jamaica – her mother’s hometown. Think sophistication, ‘tropico’ and dancehall sass – rattan visors and floppy hats (an oversized basket, too) for drama. Light, airy outfits featuring hand-made textiles brought Old Harbour’s landscape to life with a touch of ‘plantocracy’ to bring it all together gloriously.

Mariska’s Designs

Sonia Noel is no stranger to the business of fashion. She’s been one of Guyana’s leading designers, fashion event organisers and boutique owners for over 15 years and has even dressed Michelle Williams, former member of Destiny’s Child. Her line, inspired by her daughter Mariska, was elegant and regal. Her latticework-inspired pieces, be it in tent shapes or floor-length gowns, flowed down the runway and made for a refreshing take on Guyanese sensibilities, African roots and global influences.

Honorine Amoussou

We expected much from Amoussou as a representative of the motherland and she certainly delivered. The designer, who hails from Benin, captivated eyes and hearts with the customary rich fabrics and vibrant colours of the African continent in a fresh and modern way. Her collection was well curated and beautifully accessorised, driving home the point that we are, after all, the descendants of Kings and Queens.

Mutamba

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Continuing the regal trend for the two-day fashion showcase, the Mutamba collection by Jacqueline Cohen was an absolute delight. She has been making a cultural statement with her prêt-à-porter line long before tribal looks became the rage, and yet her pieces are still always refreshing. This year’s impressive collection featured Mutamba’s signature Rasta-chic looks in breathable fabrics. She used solid black, crisp whites and vibrant colours to create practical, comfortable and elegant looks that still managed to bring the sexy (cue jaw-dropping cut-out evening dress). We loved the pocketed scarves most – trendy, unique and light for summer, plus you can slip one on in cooler climes when your hands need some extra warmth.

Save the Buccoo Reef

Though she officially started her career after graduating from the Caribbean Association of Fashion and Design in 2012, Delia Alleyne is quickly becoming one of the region’s most influential designers. She was part of a contingent of designers from Trinidad and Tobago to show at this year’s Caribbean Fashion Week – where industry giants such as Meiling Esau and Robert Young of The Cloth hail from.

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Her 14-piece ‘Save the Buccoo Reef’ collection, composed of net, linens, charmeuse and iridescent gems, though not teeming with Afrocentrism, was undoubtedly one of the strongest exhibited on Saturday. Inspired by Tobago’s 10-acre endangered tourist attraction Buccoo Reef, her daring pieces speak to the ComplexdWoman in a seafoam palette. She showed embellished, attention-grabbing ensembles for all occasions – from leggings to playsuits, circle skirts to ball gowns – in an attempt to use her creativity for good. She is passionate about the environment and our need as Caribbean people to take care of our home, our legacy, and hopes to wake up the public and entice her government into a partnership to protect the reef. We love her collection and applaud her efforts.

As Karl Lagerfeld rightly said, “…fashion is not only about clothes – it’s about all kinds of change.”

Report by Tameka Coley

Photographs by Henry Robinson 

2 comments

  1. […] which I also loved. You can read all about those collections (except for Hope Wade’s) in my CFW review for ComplexdWoman, and I also did a more pop-culture-themed review for Largeup.com which you can check out […]

  2. […] Grenadian model Aria Francis in a dangerously high leg one-piece by Gillian.E.Murray Designs here, it warranted a response from the designer that led to this eventual interview. I opened my inbox […]

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