More often than not, it is pretty obvious from where a designer draws inspiration. Stella Jean‘s ready-to-wear collection for fall/winter 2016 was an extreme example from this, as the clothes sent down the runway seemed like a tangible representation of a lesson on culture – more specifically in the context of the garments, the culture of Africa. The collection, shown at Milan Fashion Week, was produced following a turning point in fashion for Italy.
Some of the top designers attended a luncheon that opened the Fashion Week, which was hosted by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. The intent was to promote the strength of things made in Italy, but this collection, with its recycled fabrics and secretive sources, suggests that some of the best products are made elsewhere, mildly contradicting this new venture.
To accompany the exotic collection, there was a choir singing live, and the musical selection was eclectic, to say the least. The chorus began with a rendition of Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise,” which was followed up by “Amazing Grace.” Both songs suited the collection in their own ways, yet the combination seems rather odd when taken out of context.
Stella Jean wanted to tell a cultural tale with her clothing, and so her show notes were rooted in anthropology. She wrote that “the socio-anthropological and the artistic parallels between two familiar and historic iconographic expressions: the Portrait and the Mask. This symmetric succession of two ‘sides’ of the same coin is projected towards two diametrically opposing temporal and geographic latitudes.”
It seems she doesn’t just want to portray a lesson in culture, but rather a textbook, chock full of key terminology on the subject that isn’t for those only leisurely interested. Despite all of these ingenious-sounding undertones, the clothing presented in the line is fit for modern women anywhere in the world, as long as they are preferable toward prints. As with any exotic or culturally-based showing, print was easily the largest factor in portraying what the designer wanted. Jean used many prints commonly associated with the culture of Africa, such as with a traditional Zimbabwean print or the addition of African masks within the patterns.
This didn’t stop her from throwing a nod or two back to Italian culture, as with the subtle red tuxedo stripes on a select number of trousers in the line. The gesture was rather minimal in comparison with the in-your-face prints, yet it was notable. And no matter how bold the prints were, it was the silhouettes of the garments that stood out the most. We were given some sharp, versatile outerwear that dove into plaid, and didn’t adhere to the same tribal prints as the rest of the Stella Jean fall 2016 collection. Other pieces of outerwear were within context though, such as with shawl wraps and a few lighter jackets and sweaters.
The way the models were dressed up with pale faces and curly hair bunched into an afro-esque look also gave a nod to the trending ’70s fashion, especially when paired with long pants and faded bright colors. So the line was one part African tribal, one part modern Italian, and one part classic ’70s. It may seem like an odd mashup in writing, but Stella Jean’s runway proves that things that don’t sound like they can fit together can come together with a lovely outcome.
Photos courtesy of Vogue