When the Victoria & Albert Museum opened their exhibition “The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945-2014” in April 2014, the collection boasted 100 pieces from Italy’s usual suspects:
Gianfranco Ferré’s crisp white blouse and tailored black pants, Audrey Hepburn-inspected Ferragamo heels, intricately bejeweled stiletto boots from Dolce and Gabbana. Yet one designer stood out for her interpretation of this modern “glamour:” Stella Jean’s contribution from her SS 2014 menswear collection was a stripedand-spotted departure from the monochromatic past. The silhouette was certainly familiar; a trench coat and high waisted trousers recalled the grandeur of old cinematic Italy (although now for a more feminine subject). But the clash of patterns was from another setting entirely, reminding exhibition viewers that Italian fashion is no longer so black-and-white.
Since her debut in 2012, it is difficult to classify Italo-Haitian Stella Jean as simply an Italian designer. She certainly has the credentials: she’s won Vogue Italia’s Who Is On Next contest, she debuted in Milan Fashion Week, and in 2013 she was selected by Giorgio Armani to show her collection in the Armani Theater. Yet her “Wax & Stripes Philosophy” (named thusly for her unique mix of waxed textiles and men’s shirt fabrics) applies to both her fabrics and her inspirations; each of her collections breaks cultural, social, historical, and textile barriers.
Stella Jean’s Spring-Summer 2015 collection is like the designer herself: hard to pin down. There’s football-style t-shirts emblazoned with geographically diverse cities; Bamako, a nod to the source of the designer’s hand-woven textiles, and Port-Au-Prince, in reference to the designer’s Haitian heritage and the makers of Stella Jean jewelry. Tropical colors adorn classical, European-cut pieces: a mermaid skirt is covered in a pattern of royal blue, orange, red, and yellow plaid checks. The collection seems to be a “best-of” reel through the decades: a plaid shirt ties around the waist à la 1990’s, a perfect 1950’s A-line dress, and wide-winged silhouettes on shirts and outerwear that are either from the 1980’s or a decade in the far future. The collections’ piece de resistance is a reincarnation of the Doctor Bag: uniting the colors and mud-cloth of Mali with the carefully hand-woven fabric of Burkina Faso.
The collection finds its narrative in the intricate depiction of a tropical landscape (one familiar to the Haitian heritage of the designer) that finds its way onto skirts, shirts, dresses, and coats alike, drawing its inspiration from the “tap-tap” buses of Haiti. Like the pieces of Stella Jean’s latest collection, these buses are painted with brightly colored subjects of religious, popular, and historical tradition. But for Stella Jean, this landscape extends beyond beautifully bright colors and her own heritage; it is also a product of her role in The Ethical Fashion Initiative, which allowed for the use of hand-woven textiles and jewelry made in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Haiti. Thus, Stella Jean’s Spring-Summer 2015 Collection is only Italian in the designer’s birthplace. From there, it unites diverse cultures to transport us to a borderless, paradisiacal destination that we may never wish to return from. StellaJean.it REILLEY DABBS