Words Helen Jennings Photography Micaela Rossato
The party started on the plane. A heady mix of turbulence and complimentary rum readied passengers on the flight from London to Kingston for our sunny arrival in Jamaica. Seatbelts were off, gregarious patois ribaldry flowed and everyone applauded as the airplane landed. One man even hummed some Bob Marley to himself while disembarking so happy was he to be home. This arrival sums up the buoyant Jamaican spirit, which is also amply expressed in the country’s fashion scene. Having made this trip in 2010 for Style Week Jamaica (SWJ), it was exciting to be invited back again last month for the 2012 installment.
Now in its seventh year, SWJ calls itself "the iriest fashion week in the Caribbean” and it’s no idle boast. Four days of events around town began with High Tea ‘N Style on 24 May, a genteel charity fashion show at Kings House hosted by the First Lady Patricia Allen. That was followed by the City Style accessories show on the downtown shoreline, where models were painted head to toe in white paint and guests were welcomed by fire jugglers.
The next day the men’s show took over the grounds of the heritage site Devon House and featured a brief guest appearance from Tyson Beckford. The women’s shows in Port Royal were set against a backdrop of the battlements and cannons that used to defend against pirates and Englishmen. Finally came Fashion Block, a free Sunday evening street party in New Kingston. A huge catwalk was constructed down one of the main boulevards and thousands of onlookers were welcomed to enjoy fashion, dance routines and a model competition hosted by ebullient radio DJ Jerry D.
“It’s all about creating a unique dynamic that is unlike any other fashion week,” says Deiwght Peters, CEO of Saint International model agency and founder of SWJ. “From the aesthetics of our models and designers, to hunting for unusual venues, SWJ is rebranding the city and reaching new audiences.” Peters has been scouting for over a decade and is responsible for launching the international careers of models such as Shena Moulton, Tafari Hinds and Sam Taylor. His events now bring local models and designers together and he is as interested in developing fashion brands as he is new faces. “There’s a lot of work to be done here in the fashion industry but we’re here to create opportunities.”
More than 30 designers showcased their spring/summer 2013 collections, which displayed a diverse and enthusiastic approach to island style. Highlights included Courtney Washington’s elegantly tailored, understated tailoring; Neah Lis’s 1970s-style floaty dresses in aquatic colours; White Skyy’s Beenie Man-approved riffled shirts, metallic jeans and military jackets with tarantula motifs; and Donna Rose’s celebratory Jamaica flag-hued collection marking the country’s 50th anniversary of independence this year.
Shades of Africa by Tanya Cameron meanwhile showed embroidered robes of Senegalese influence and tribal printed two pieces. “My label shines a light on Afro-centric design, which is unusual here but Jamaicans love it,” says Cameron. “Jamaican fashion is growing tremendously thanks to events like this one that supports emerging designers.” Andre Shirley, whose men’s collection conjured up visions of Texas rangers in studded jeans and shiny shirts, agrees: “Jamaican designers like to set their own trends and SWJ is a great platform for us, but it’s still a small industry that needs nurturing.”
To that end SWJ invited the London College of Fashion to host a fashion forum this year and has ties with Parsons The New School For Design in New York and the University of Technology in Kingston. International designers also weigh in alongside the indigenous ones. ARISE favourite LaQuan Smith showed his cyber-botic cruise line and LA-based celebrity designer Indashio built up to the finale of Fashion Block with his love-inspired collection. A fittingly upbeat end to a genuinely heartfelt event.