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Common Thread: Caribbean Fashion

Spiritually as well as geographically, the territories of the Caribbean are thousands of miles away from haute couture centres like Paris, Milan, or New York. But despite the absence of glitzy showcases for their work, talented, ambitious local fashion designers create garments chic enough to deserve a place on international catwalks, yet decidedly adapted to the everyday rhythms of island life. Photographer Sean Drakes captures 11 designers from Trinidad, Jamaica, and the Bahamas on their home ground, and discovers that a passion or style and hunger for success links them all

Fashion designers in the Caribbean form a fraternity of enterprising artists. Many are reluctant moonlighters, working as caterers, architects, or accountants to support their commitment to their art. Each pattern cut and every stitch applied is a step closer to the dream: owning a boutique, establishing a brand name, dressing the world — or at least the limbs of J-Lo or Oprah.

In the absence of glitzy showcases for couture creations and ready-to-wear collections, like the ones in New York, Paris, Milan, or London, enterprising Caribbean designers employ the beauty pageant circuit as a platform for their talent, island-hopping from one event to the next.

The art of fashion design requires an imaginative approach to blending texture and colour, and a skilful use of line and structure. For this style portfolio, photographer Sean Drakes borrows a designer’s philosophy to combine the festive flavours and captivating qualities of three gorgeous Caribbean destinations with the original creations of 11 designers, all linked by their unyielding passion for fashion.

 

TRINIDAD

Claudia Pegus/CPFS

Pairing a couture approach, in which impeccable cutting skills and an eye for inventive embellishments are imperative, with functional designs for corporate and leisure settings, is the trait that distinguishes Claudia Pegus. Raw silk, georgette, and linen are the fabrics in which she crafts her signature pant suits and sexy evening dresses. Pegus is a minimalist whose flare for formal wear is in the details: the collar treatment, waistline accents, or use of slits.

 

Pegus (at left) is pictured in a pewter silk pant suit from her 2003 collection, in the newly renovated foyer of the landmark Queen’s Hall in Port of Spain. Her models wear: black silk chiffon and knit gown; black silk chiffon gown with feather-boa trim; black backless silk chiffon gown with silver metallic back.

Feature image: Black silk wide-leg trouser paired with black dupioni silk military jacket; black silk military cropped jacket with silver studs, paired with pewter silk shorts; pewter silk long-sleeve coat, paired with bronze metallic mesh pencil skirt

Credits

Models: Joy Daniel, Stephanie Ramkissoon, Leah Mari-Guevera

Makeup stylist: Lester Rauseo/Beauti Bank

Special thanks to: Queen’s Hall, Denis Ali, Nadia Ramkissoon, Ashraph

 

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Heather Jones

“My inspiration comes from the rhythm and passion of the Caribbean.” Surreal hand-painted flora on silk chiffon are Heather Jones’s offering to “celebrate the sensuality of today’s woman.” Her formula for stimulating warm thoughts of the tropics by applying flamboyant colours to fluid fabrics is paying off. Jones’s magical loom earned her the international prêt-a-porter style award at Miami’s 2002 Fashion Week of the Americas, and a host of licensing offers for her blossoming brand.

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Jones (at left) is pictured in a slip dress and hand-painted duster, in the sprawling tranquillity of east Trinidad’s Aranguez Savannah. Her models wear: yellow, purple, and turquoise-blue fan orchid dress; hand-painted aqua pant-set, paired with a wrap-front blouse with ruffle sleeves.

Credits

Models: Stephanie Ramkissoon, Leah Mari-Guevera

Makeup stylist: Yolanda Spence

Hair stylist: Joey Vogue

 

•   •   •

 

Robert Young/The Cloth

Trinidad’s Carnival is one of the primary sources of inspiration for designer Robert Young of The Cloth. The quality of play, such as in the portrayal of traditional masquerade characters, or in the arrangement and performance of steel pan music, finds an equivalent in the imaginative appliqué forms on The Cloth’s linen and cotton creations.

 

Young (second from right) is pictured on Carnival Monday in Paramin, among the blue jab-jabs of this mountainside village. His models wear: khaki turtle apron; white tunic and pants; white linen dress; khaki double-neck clurita.

Credits

Hair and makeup stylist: Richard Young/Mannequin Caribbean

Assistant stylist: Lisa Moore

Transport: Glenda Esdelle

Paramin accommodation courtesy the Nicholas family

 

•   •   •

BAHAMAS

Last May, 13 Bahamian designers staged 2003 Haute Couture at the Sheraton Resort on Paradise Island. This annual showcase is a vehicle for promoting “fashion tourism,” a concept that is evidence of the marketing genius Caribbean designers rely on to stay in the game. Members of the Council of Latin American Fashion Designers, the body that guides Miami’s Fashion Week of the Americas, were among the awestruck audience who showered appreciation on this cast of powerhouse designers. Seven of them were invited to create collections for Miami’s 2004 Fashion Week event. Like Andron Evans, who has a “penchant for sheer, soft flowing fabrics that conceal yet reveal”, or Lisa Humes, whose designs in “burlap fabric accentuated with vibrant raffia and rhinestone studs are her tribute to Bahamian straw basket makers,” Caribbean designers offer the world a unique reflection of their heritage.

Cathy Rolle (foreground, left) and Andron Evans (foreground, right) are pictured at the caves on New Providence Island, where folklore says Lucayan Indians once lived. Cathy’s models wear: cocoa-brown leather pant-suit, paired with exaggerated buckles and a lace blouse; beige knit evening dress with lace-up back. Andron’s models wear: strapless gold chiffon bodice covered with square cut-outs, with tiny gold beading and burnt orange raw silk skirt gathered to one side; blue-green backless cold-shoulder dress of stretch velour, interwoven with gold sequins with rhinestone accents, and a hip-high slit paired with full-flare trail cut.

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Percy Wallace (sitting, right) is pictured at Fort Fincastle, built in 1793 at the highest point in Nassau. His models wear: contemporary and period-influenced beauty pageant and bridal gowns, bearing his signature iridescent embellishments and embroidered applications on sheer, natural fabrics for comfort in a tropical climate.

Lisa Humes (at left) and Nestasea Sealy (far right) are pictured on the steps of St Peter’s Native Baptist Church in Gamber Village. Lisa’s models wear: crop-jacket pant suit; skirt suit in burlap with her signature raffia handwork, her homage to Bahamian straw basket makers. Nestasea’s models wear: yellow antique satin jacket with winged cuffs, accentuated with a hand-crafted flower, and paired with a white organza skirt embossed with velvet flowers; pink fitted jacket with red lapel, paired with a tailored miniskirt, all constructed from antique satin.

Credits

Production co-ordinator: Douglas Gardiner/DAG & Associates

Models: Mary Watkins, Mizpah Williams, Narissa Eve, Leslia Miller

Makeup stylists: Bernadette Rolle for Hair of Essence and Italia Williams for Ebyon

Hair stylist: Courtney Rolle

Driver: Joseph Abraham

Accommodation courtesy: Holiday Inn Nassau

Special thanks to: Austin Weekes and Holiday Inn Nassau; Paradise Island; Duff ’n Stuff; James Williams; Joseph Abraham

 

•   •   •

 

JAMAICA


Carlton Brown

A travel visa is the only hurdle barring Carlton Brown from the stylish court governed by Armani, Gucci, Galliano, and McQueen. His avant garde menswear is the product of his quiet-spoken yet bold spirit and boundless imagination. Brown’s mission is not just to create comfortable suits and chic leisurewear, but to exploit “the possibilities of fabric”. Denim, linen, suede, and Italian suiting are the media in which his trademark sensibility for opulent detail is expressed.

Brown (second from right) is pictured in metallic blue dress pants with blue paisley knit shirt, at the fort at Port Royal. His models wear: tie-dye printed denim hoodie and pants with black eyelet detail; floral denim pants and mango cotton chambray lace-up shirt with oversize placket and cuff detail; cream rayon drawstring pants with side eyelet laces, paired with stretch cotton print shirt; burnt orange dress pants with brocade cuff detail, paired with brocade shirt and cummerbund.

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Credits

Models: Hans Areyer, Kevin Grant, Kibwe McGaan, Kirk Headley (all models Saint International)

 

•   •   •

Siim

During a 10-month journey on the back-roads of Asia and Australia in 1995, Siim (Simone Clarke) discovered a new application for her University of Toronto architecture degree: creating “simple, well-made, and versatile clothing”. Siim’s technique: “combine ethnic and modern geometric forms with inspiration drawn from the Caribbean; layer lush textures and lightweight fabrics …  with clean geometric lines”, to create graceful womenswear that can transition from day to night effortlessly.

Siim (at right) is pictured in a black and white silk chiffon “Butterfly” cocktail dress with monofilament straps, at a restored former hospital building in Port Royal. Her models wear: citron “Dandy” pants suit in polished cotton with floral halter camisole; black and white striped “Contradiction” wrap jumpsuit in crepe; hand-dyed sunset silk chiffon “Swallowtail” cocktail dress with monofilament neck strap; sheer polyester striped convertible “Multiplicity” blouse with white cotton twill pants.

Below: A closer view of Simm’s “Dandy” pants suit and “Swallow-tail” cocktail dress

 

 

•   •   •

 

Minka

With eight CXC passes, Minka says, “I should be working in a bank.” Instead, her investment is in 100 per cent cotton silk, from which she creates skirt suits, bags, hats, sweaters, and toddler gear. A trip to Washington, DC, introduced her to crochet with a fine needle, and opened a door unnoticed when she worked solely with a “traditional big needle.” As Minka angles to open her first boutique this year, she’s busy building a production team by contemporising Jamaica’s community of crochet traditionalists.

Minka (at left)  is pictured in a white two-piece crochet skirt set, on the black sands of Cable Hut Beach. Her models wear: diamond-pattern sleeveless pull-over; green shell mini skirt with shell halter back; peach and white motif skirt with peach and white motif triangle tie back.

Credits

Models: Denise Scott, Nickosha Arnold, Christopher Stephenson (all models Saint International)Special thanks to: Karl Williams, Dweight Peters/Saint International, Sheree Morris-Gregory, Siim, Craig Moodie, Jason Clarke