144. Haiti Cherie
Upon returning to Haiti, and particularly the home of her grandmother, Italian-Haitian designer Stella Jean realised the island was very much her ‘second home’ and immersed herself in the culture, art and history of the island of her ancestors. Grant Fell learns of; Art Naïf as an inspiration and the production of papier-mâché and Fer Battu metal accessories for her SS15 collection; the tap-tap - Haiti’s ‘pop art on wheels’ and the unique and creative industries that thrive in Croix-des-Bouquets and Jacmel. Photos: Chloé Mukai
Grant Fell: Hi Stella, when did you make the trip to Haiti that accompanies these photos? Stella Jean: May 2014 Even though you are of Haitian and Italian descent, was that the first time you had been to Haiti? No it wasn’t, my mother is Haitian and I have family there, although I was raised and still live in Rome. What was the first thing that struck you about Haiti once you had touched down? I’m Haitian, at least a half of me is. So for me, Haiti is my second home. What I’m most fond of are my grandmother’s gardens and home, her passion for the botanical crafts, the sea, the food, the smells, the music and the Naïf painting. Tell us about that, about your discovery of the artistic wave in Haiti, Naive art or Art Naïf. That’s something that somehow is part of my DNA, it was not an impromptu discovery about the last period. Thanks to the development of my SS 2015 collection and thanks to the support of ITC EFI, what I tried to do was show Haiti in a new light. Haiti, described by André Malraux as “the most amazing experience of the magic art of the 20th century”, is unveiled through ‘Art Naïf’, a movement marked by active observation built around a simple soul. This artistic perspective is an expression of life, nature and spirit, animated by the market women and their daily multi-coloured vanity, a vanity full of dignity. There are several prints in the latest collection which were formed as a direct result of this trip. Which prints are they and what is it about them that is unique to Haiti? The collection is a declaration of intent and confirms my commitment in testifying, sharing and tracing back secular traditions through narrative images. Thanks to my sourcing trip to Haiti with the ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative team, we got in touch with the Haitian tradition of Art Naïf, discovering such a rare treasure of artisanal and skilled handcrafts. The market, acting as a social barometer, is where we met proud vendors adorned with scarves enhancing their femininity. Adding to the hustle and bustle of the market, “tap-tap” buses also have a strong presence in recreating this atmosphere. The “tap-tap” is the traditional means of public transport, and is also described as “pop art on wheels.” The vehicles are adorned with subjects belonging to religious, popular and historical tradition; ironic phrases, proverbs or messages; they are painted by artists who attend art schools that specialize in tap-tap painting. Donkeys, another important means of transportation and labor, and sugar cane, are also recurring Haitian elements that reappear on prints and hand-painted fabrics, completing the visual landscape of this collection. You have also created accessories in Haiti, tell us about those... I had the opportunity to design these pieces directly with the local artisans. The papier-mâché fruits are produced in Jacmel, the cultural capital of Haiti and home to the country’s largest carnival, for which local artisans craft colourful papier-mâché masks and decorations. The horn bracelets are produced in a Port-au-Prince atelier of around fifty artisans specializing in horn and bone material. This animal by-product is washed,
cut, shaped and polished to perfection to achieve a smooth and glossy surface. The Fer Forgé Metalwork jewelry collection was made in several different ateliers that are part of a large community of metalwork artisans based in Croix-des-Bouquets, on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince (see story on Mickerson Jean). There, the local metalsmiths forged the Stella Jean pendants and bangles out of recycled oil drums using just a hammer and physical strength to create the design. Is there a hub or ITC EFI production space in Haiti yet? In Haiti there isn’t yet really a Hub, but the ITC has a team of professionals who manage all the community groups of artisans. I went to Croixdes-Bouquets, an entire village of artisans specializing in metalwork. They used discarded oil drums that they hammer down into sheets of metal which is then cutout, painted and shaped into accessories and home ware (called “fer battu”). Artisans from this place produced my tap-tap bangles and other metal components I used in the accessories collection. We also visited a group of old ladies making patchwork tapestries illustrating traditional Haitian lifestyle and landscapes. These ladies also made beads from fabric off-cuts, which were also used in some of the footwear and jewelry from the last collection. In Jacmel (coastal city around 2-3 hours from Port-Au-Prince, and home to the famous carnival), we met with local papier-maché artisans who are masters in this skill and produce some incredible things for the Jacmel Carnival. We designed some papier-maché fruits that were integrated in SS15 bracelets and necklaces. Another interesting artisan group was the cow horn group. They work from this narrow little workshop in downtown Port-au-Prince and shape, carve and polish horn (a by-product from local abattoirs). We also used some of their bangles in SS15. What about day-to-day life in Haiti, did you find any amazing restaurants, go to any art galleries, listen to any local music? With a question like that, two things immediately come to mind: the Caribbean music band Tabou Combo and the Galerie d’Art Nader in Portau-Prince. Is there a special place you want to return to? My grandmother’s home.
Clockwise from top left: 1. With Serge Jolimeau and Mickerson Jean, two experts in “fer battu” (metalwork) in Serge’s Croix-de-Bouquets workshop. 2. Studying the voudou flags designed by master artist Jean Baptist Jean Joseph 3. Studying more work inside the atelier of Jean Baptist Jean Joseph 4. Haiti has plenty of artisanal work: painting, metalwork, embroidery, woodwork, bonework and much more. A designers’ heaven 5. Stella posing in front of her favourite tree, the tree was a direct inspiration for the “Flamboyant” dress in her SS15 collection 6. Broken down colonial buildings are a common site in Haiti 7. With Paul André, a cow horn artisan who produces jewelry items for Stella 8. Product development session in Lillavois, where Stella works with patchwork artisans from Peacequilts
9. Stella with Serge Jolimeau Opposite: Stella in Cité Soleil slum with school kids
Above: Local fruit and veges! Opposite: Fishing boats against a stormy Haitian sky in Jacmel
Above: A rural market on the road between Port-au-Prince and Jacmel Opposite: Stella and the taptap, the iconic Haitian public buses