2012 is a big year for the Caribbean; both Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago celebrate 50 years of independence, the fastest man on the face of the planet – a proud Jamaican – is set to take centre stage at the London Olympics and the crème de la crème of the Caribbean Fashion and Creative industries showed at London Fashion Week for the very first time – as part of the British Fashion Council’s inaugural International Fashion Showcase.
The event was established to mark the Olympics and ‘honour the Olympic values of international respect, excellence, equality and friendship’. The Caribbean Collections debuted at the start of LFW on the 17th and 18th of February and is supported by the Caribbean Export Development Agency, the Caribbean Fashion Industry Association and JAMPRO – Jamaica Promotions Corporation.
I was ecstatic when I heard about the showcase, as a proud Briton of Jamaican heritage, it was marvellous to hear that a side of the Caribbean – the creative, industrious side, which is so often overlooked by the mainstream media – would be showcased for all to see.
Caribbean fashion is a well established industry, with Caribbean Fashion Week celebrating its 11th anniversary last year. The industry leaders are now looking to export markets for the next phase of growth.
I visited the showcase on the Friday, which was hosted in the Charing Cross Hotel and was awed by the extensive range of designs, styles and themes that were on display.
The exhibition featured designers handpicked from fifteen islands across the Caribbean and creations inspired by the cultural melting pot that the Caribbean represents – African, Spanish, French and British influences were evident in the pieces on display.
Haitian born Phelicia Dell, creator of VèVè Collections was showcasing her line of handcrafted bags, inspired by the distinctive style of her home nation.
Dell was once a struggling artisan, who began to build her empire by giving away samples of her work for free. This foresight and sacrifice paid off, for in 2008, she had the opportunity to enter Diane von Furstenberg’s ‘Global Handbag Design Competition’. The DVF competition solicited designs from women artisans in Haiti, Guatemala, Nigeria and Cambodia. Phelicia won the competition and in 2009, Diane von Furstenberg featured her winning handbags online and in DVF stores around the globe, to mark International Women’s Day.
Sandra Kennedy’s (Jamaica), Beach Collection represents the definitive resort lifestyle. Hand crafted in 100% West Indian Sea Island Cotton – the rarest, silkiest and strongest cotton in the world – the Montego Bay based designer pays homage to her mother for her career in fashion and design. Her mother began working in fashion here in the UK for none other than Marks and Spencer. She then returned to Jamaica and passed on her love for sewing to her daughter.
Kennedy is inspired by her home in every sense and the indigenous and unique hand crafted detail is incorporated into her collection.
Sandra Kennedy Collection, Half Moon PO Box 2450, Rose Hall, Montego Bay, Jamaica WI
I also caught up with Kevin Ayoung-Julien (Tobago) of kaj Designs and Arlene Martin (Jamaica) of drennaLUNA.
Kevin launched his brand in 2005, as a boutique operation producing custom-made, one-of-a-kind pieces.
In 2009 he debuted his inaugural resort collection, Shore Culture. Ribbons of ombrè and tie-dyed chiffons, silk rayons, satins and organza are constructed to flatter the female form and highlight her sensual silhouette.
A self-taught designer, Kevin is not defined by convention and likes to be guided by his
intuition and a creative openness. I found this to be evident in his creations and I too am also a big believer in following your heart as you pursue your endeavours. His partnership with Liza Miller (General Manager of kaj Designs), a leading marketing consultant and publicist in the Caribbean, has created a powerful collaborative force combining the creative and the strategic, which will undoubtedly set the company up for future success.
Arlene Martin of drennaLUNA debuted her recent collection – The Collection 1975 which is a breath of nostalgia of the fun, funk and fashion frenzy that was the 1970s , and would not look out of place in a swanky bar or classy cocktail party right here in London.
Arlene has had a passion for design and sewing from as far back as she can remember, and she warmly recounted to me the memory of being given her first sewing machine at the age of 12 years old. With skills that have largely been self- taught, she actively took up the craft as a hobby in her late teens and over the years, her eye for detail mushroomed into something extraordinary.
Although passionate about fashion she was encouraged by her father to continue with her academic studies and she is now a MBA graduate and a practicing business consultant who has worked on varied national and international projects, proving that one’s creativity does not have to be stifled as one develops a more traditional career path and that following your dreams should always remains a priority.
She describes her design aesthetic as ‘simple yet sophisticated’ and the drenna LUNA woman as ‘confident and bold’ – who wouldn’t want to fit that description!!
Caribbean Fashion Week 2012 will be held between the 7th and the 11th of June, in Kingston Jamaica and the Caribbean Collections are set to return to London for the SS13 London Fashion Week in September – so with a few gold medals in the bag (hopefully!) – there is a lot to look forward to and to celebrate from the beautiful islands of the Caribbean!