STELLA vi­sion

BLKonBLK - - To Rome With Love -

Haitian-ital­ian de­signer Stella Jean is the fu­ture of fash­ion ac­cord­ing to Gior­gio Ar­mani. With her ex­pan­sive vi­sion, vi­va­cious search for new fab­rics, clas­sic Euro­pean tai­lor­ing and ar­ti­sanal pro­duc­tion spread across sev­eral of the ITC Eth­i­cal fash­ion Ini­tia­tive’s hubs, he may well be right. Grant fell and Rachael Church­ward meet her for an espresso near the Com­p­lesso Mon­u­men­tale, Santo Spir­ito in Sas­sia, Rome. Images by ITC EFI, un­less oth­er­wise cred­ited

Grant Fell: Kia ora Stella, tell us a lit­tle bit about your­self. You were born here in Rome? Stella Jean: Yes, I was born here in Rome. My mother is from Haiti, my fa­ther is Ital­ian he is from Turin, the city of Fiat. Grow­ing up in Italy in the 80s wasn’t that easy for me, it is a won­der­ful coun­try but back then it wasn’t re­ally that ready for a multi-racial fam­ily. It is much­mor­eready­forthat­nowbu­ta­sy­ou­can imag­ine in the 80s it wasn’t. So, through my child­hood and then my teenage years, I have been through some…i would say…strug­gles be­cause I had a huge prob­lem with my iden­tity… GF: In what sense? For in­stance, my school, which is now my son’s school, I wasn’t the only black girl in the school but at the same time I was Ital­ian like all of the oth­ers weren’t. I didn’t have the op­por­tu­nity to go into a com­mu­nity or group like say Haitian, be­cause I am not just Haitian, I am Haitian-ital­ian. So at 16 I started pre­tend­ing that I was just Haitian but the Haitian kids didn’t re­ally ac­cept me be­cause I was also Ital­ian!sois­tart­ed­look­ing­fora­nop­por­tu­nity to cre­ate some­thing, I started look­ing to see if I had the skills to paint or write, and then I dis­cov­ered I had the ca­pac­ity to work with fab­rics, I liked clothes and found it was my way to com­mu­ni­cate so that is what I started to do. It wasn’t about aes­thetic at all, I didn’t start for an aes­thetic rea­son. It wasn’t a link to the fash­ion main­stream, trends, it wasn’t about that at all. It was just to show that I can put in the same styling, the same out­fits, Ital­ian struc­tures that I would see – which is typ­i­cal of my col­lec­tions be­cause it rep­re­sents my fa­ther’s side, 99% of Ital­ian men wear th­ese shirts and most of the time they are striped! GF: Were ei­ther of your par­ents in fash­ion Stella? No, no. They use fash­ion in their lives but in a very easy way, they do not follow trends, it is not about that, I used to go with my fa­ther to the tai­lor who hand-made all of the men’s clothes and my mother, in fact my grand­mother, too, liked all of the French de­sign­ers of the time but with a Caribbean twist. Chic with some­thing a lit­tle ex­tra… GF: More colour? Yes…so I started mak­ing clothes us­ing the wax fab­ric, which looks African but is not, it is in fact from Java… GF: In In­done­sia? Yes but now most of the wax fab­rics are pro­duced in Hol­land. So that was the first les­son for me that you don’t need to trust ap­pear­ances so eas­ily. The first thing peo­ple say when they see my clothes is: “Ah that is so African,” but, maybe it can be so Hol­land! (laughs). Re­ally the only truly African fab­rics we have are the ones from Burk­ina Faso. For ex­am­ple in this lat­est col­lec­tion there is the Bo­golan, a fab­ric and print cre­ated us­ing a mud tech­nique, it is all hand-made. If we can put Haiti, Italy, Mali, Burk­ina Faso, Ja­pan into an out­fit it can all work so eas­ily and I see that mix of fab­rics as like real life, the same kind of com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween peo­ple can work in real life if we just be­gin to be less scared. I think peo­ple here at least get scared of dif­fer­ent tex­tiles, prints and colours. We have al­ways had a lot of African in­flu­ences in Euro­pean fash­ion, in the 60s and 70s there were de­sign­ers like Yves Saint Lau­rent, par­tic­u­larly in spring/ sum­mer col­lec­tions so it is noth­ing new. It is the ap­proach and the point of view that has to change now. It can be a car­i­ca­ture and a par­o­dyand­has­been­fora­long­time­toal­most look at African cul­ture and say, “Oh, nice, oh cute…” but we don’t have the right to do that or say that but if you just take a few min­utes to un­der­stand those tech­niques like Bo­golan are very so­phis­ti­cated. It is not easy at all or sim­ple, th­ese are so­phis­ti­cated tech­niques, just like the Ital­ian ones, like lace or em­broi­dery that we re­spect a lot. We

should also start to re­spect th­ese African fab­rics, be­cause in the fab­rics you find the cul­ture of a coun­try. So, I think it is the ap­proach and point of view that needs to change. Rachael Church­ward: Ab­so­lutely, th­ese ar­ti­sans are good! GF: Yes, it is just a per­cep­tion re­ally… Yes. It’s not just the aes­thetic. The world is full of beau­ti­ful things, beau­ti­ful clothes. There are all those high street stores pro­duc­ing a beau­ti­ful col­lec­tion each week! Bu­tit­can’tbe­just­thatany­more,just­beau­ti­ful clothes, we need some­thing more, some­thing dif­fer­ent. RC: There is def­i­nitely a story in your cloth­ing Stella. Your show yes­ter­day was a com­plete styling story. I loved it. The way you mixed your tex­tures and pat­terns, the girls wear­ing brogues with that, you were telling a story all the way through it. I loved that fab­ric, the one made with mud? Yes, the Bo­golan…it’s in­cred­i­ble you can find out more about a coun­try than you can if you go on Wikipedia if you just take time to un­der­stand their fab­rics and the cul­ture be­hind them. That print is a like a gi­raffe skin, each sin­gle line is made by hand… RC: By paint­ing? No, not paint­ing. They use a kind of sand, which is the white lines and then fill it in be­tween with a layer of mud, just mud. GF: And it just soaks in? Yes. And with that out­fit, the fab­ric was pro­duced in Burk­ina Faso so it is African but the bag with that out­fit was pro­duced in Kenya, with Si­mone and the ITC Eth­i­cal Fash­ion Ini­tia­tive. I think, though, it doesn’t help to try and look eth­nic any­more. Some la­bels use this con­cept a lot. Eth­nic - the idea that be­cause it is African, you are help­ing peo­ple by buy­ing this, even if you don’t re­ally like it! No, you have to buy it be­cause you like it. Fash­ion works like that, it can’t be a char­ity pur­chase. There is no point in buy­ing fash­ion for your conscience. RC: I can think of many peo­ple back in New Zealand who would love your clothes and buy them be­cause they are great, not be­cause they rep­re­sent Africa or any­thing. Grant, I am think­ing of Jessica for a start. GF: Ab­so­lutely. And This­tle… Africa is a lot more ad­vanced than peo­ple think, they are not kids - they are a cen­tre of cul­ture. Ia­mal­waysim­pressed­with­how­so­phis­ti­cated they are, the peo­ple we work with and meet. Peo­ple have the im­pres­sion that ev­ery­thing hap­pens in vil­lages and yes the tech­niques come from cen­tury-old knowl­edge but it is not mud huts, there are big build­ings and fac­to­ries and ci­ties. RC: I think for us as New Zealan­ders, this res­onates with us too as there is a strong Poly­ne­sian cul­ture there. We are Maori and Pa­cific Is­land, there is a strong Asian cul­ture – it is very multi-cul­tural so there are fab­rics which are part of the wider so­ci­ety, like Tapa cloth from the is­lands… What is it called? GF: Tapa, it is made from bark, a type of cloth and it is used tra­di­tion­ally in most of the is­lands: Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Cook Is­lands, Niue… Tapa? RC: Yes, T-A-P-A… I am al­ways look­ing for new things like this, I will have to re­search it! GF: There are many things I think you would find in­ter­est­ing in our Poly­ne­sian cul­tures; weav­ing, weav­ing is an art form used by almost all Poly­ne­sian cul­tures, there are many dif­fer­ent types of dyes and tech­niques used,

dif­fer­ent tex­tiles…rc: I think there are a lot of New Zealan­ders who would love Stella Jean, your style is quite suited to us! GF: So how did your con­nec­tion with Si­mone and ITC Eth­i­cal Fash­ion Ini­tia­tive hap­pen? Si­mon­etta Gian­fe­lici, I think you met her, yes? She is the tal­ent scout for Al­taroma (Rome Fash­ion Week). Twice I en­tered into ‘Who Is On Next’, which is the new de­signer contest and twice I was re­jected (laughs) and the third time I got in and won! Af­ter­ward I de­vel­oped a spe­cial re­la­tion­ship with Si­mon­etta and she in­tro­duced me to Si­mone. Be­fore we met she said, “You have to meet this man be­cause he is just about what you do. I was al­ways do­ing re­search about other cul­tures, which is why I am now in­ter­ested in Tapa, and then I met Si­mone and it was love at first sight. It was in­cred­i­ble, he started talk­ing about Burk­ina and then he showed me some fab­rics from Burk­ina. If some­one else had shown me those fab­rics I would never have imag­ined that it was from Africa. From that mo­ment on we started this jour­ney and to­gether we have been through Burk­ina Faso, Mali and the last one was to Haiti so I was able to come back to my own roots (be­cause ITC Eth­i­cal Fash­ion Ini­tia­tive have a hub there). Yes­ter­day was just a lit­tle sam­ple of the whole col­lec­tion we will be showingat­mi­lan­fash­ion­weekin­septem­ber. In that col­lec­tion you will see another point of view of Haiti, which is an is­land that many peo­ple know just for the earth­quake or be­ing a re­ally poor is­land. But, it has its own artis­tic wave, a style of paint­ing called Naïve. In the show yes­ter­day you would have seen some of those paint­ings in the last dress. GF: Yes! That was a beau­ti­ful dress…and it ab­so­lutely re­minded me of the Caribbean. We also made those bracelets there in Haiti, the metal ones and there were other Naïve el­e­ments, like the mar­ket and then also the Pa­pier-mâché…you see peo­ple will talk about Haiti but never talk about this, like the Naïve paint­ings and yet it is all typ­i­cal of Haiti. We think about ev­ery­thing in the de­sign and styling, it is so linked to so many cul­tural as­pects. GF: When you show in Mi­lan in Septem­ber is that the first time you have shown on sched­ule? No, it is the third time. The first time was with Ar­mani, when Gior­gio Ar­mani in­vited me to show… RC: That’s a big hon­our, to have been in­vited by him. Of course, and be­ing in­vited into his tem­ple, the Teatro Ar­mani! GF: Where do you re­tail Stella, is it world­wide? YES…RC: Ex­cept in New Zealand as far as I know. How about Aus­tralia? Yes, in Aus­tralia we def­i­nitely do , in fact we have had a lot of re­quests from Aus­tralian mag­a­zines for sam­ples just in the last month, Vogue Aus­tralia, Elle Aus­tralia… GF: Great, hope­fully we will see you in New Zealand soon! So the ITC Eth­i­cal Fash­ion Ini­tia­tive is it more of a men­tor­ing, guid­ance thing or are they more like a part­ner, a business part­ner? I hope…that they con­sider me as a business part­ner be­cause it is not a…trend, for me. It is part of the DNA of the col­lec­tion, to­gether we are al­ways look­ing for new sur­prises, new cul­ture. We are on a con­stant search to­gether. We can’t stop! It is re­ally in­ter­est­ing work­ing with Si­mone, you won­der what will be the next coun­try for us to work with, you never know. Maybe New Zealand! (laughs) GF: Hell yeah! At this point the ITC Eth­i­cal Fash­ion Ini­tia­tive’s Chloe Mukai joins the con­ver­sa­tio­nand­sum­maris­es­thep­art­ner­ship. Chloe Mukai: I think Stella Jean per­fectly en­cap­su­lates what the ITC Eth­i­cal Fash­ion Ini­tia­tive is try­ing to do. When we met her she was al­ready do­ing this, she was do­ing this any­way. It was not like we ap­proached another brand and said, “Do you want to pro­duce a col­lec­tion in Africa,” she was al­ready de­sign­ing with that level of aes­thetic. In so many ways, she is the per­fect match for us. Stella Jean: I think this is some­thing that could hap­pen in New Zealand. Why can’t you take a de­signer from New Zealand and mix them with a Rus­sian de­signer or fab­ric, or Greece? I think the world will change in that di­rec­tion, we are trav­el­ling so much and so eas­ily now, races are meld­ing to­gether much more. I am Haitian-ital­ian but in a few years there will be many, many more racial mixes, much more than mine…but it doesn’t have to be patch­work as I like to say. I don’t mix my own cul­tures; Ital­ian, Haitian or even African as a patch­work, one over the other, they have to com­mu­ni­cate in an equal way. Like my fab­rics, I treat all of my fab­rics in an equal way. That is the change… GF: Fan­tas­tic, the fash­ion world can do with this sort of change… RC: Thanks Stella, see you next time!

Stella Jean Aus­tralian stock­ists: Bris­bane - Car­mar­gue Mel­bourne - Chris­tine Barro

Stella Jean

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Op­po­site: Stella in Haiti This page: Clock­wise from top left: Stella’s Bo­golan print for SS15 (photo: Luca Sor­rentino), Stella Jean SS14 look book, work­ing in Burk­ina Faso, warp­ing of yarn for SS14 fab­ric, Stella & Si­mon­etta Gian­f­eleci work­ing in Burk­ina Faso

This page: Stella Jean SS15 and SS14 (both pho­tos: Luca Sor­rentino) Op­po­site page: Left-right: du­aba serwa, Mina Evans and Lisa Fo­lawiyo aal pho­tos: Luca Sor­rentino

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