Stella Jean exploded onto the fashion scene in late 2011 with collections recognized by their juxtaposition of classic silhouettes and bold prints. Representative of her multi-cultural background, the contrast aids in materializing the designer’s personal experiences. Jean’s path to fashion design was not a canonical one. Jean tells Ecouterre that when she was younger she dreamed of being a diplomatic official. However, once Jean discovered fashion design she found it to be a truly authentic mode of communication that allowed her to express and resolve any inadequacies she felt as a child. Being part of a multiracial family in Italy shaped the designer as a person, but also provided the framework to find her identity as a designer.
Jean refers to the symbol of her signature style as her “Wax & Stripes Philosophy” wherein the wax design motif fabrics refer to the Haitian roots of her mother and the masculine stripes of her Italian father. The two cultures mix in response to the needs of the time but never alter their identities. Stella Jean sees fashion as an opportunity to be a cultural translator and “reestablish the balance between symbols, stories, and different worlds through style.”
While silhouettes stay relatively consistent, each season Jean travels to a new locale that becomes the “heartbeat” of the collection. Jean tells Ecouterre, “I always find a rare treasure, looking at the busy hands of extraordinary women who tell, with dignity and hard work, a creative and cultural mosaic without any kind of mystification.”
The Spring/Summer 2015 Stella Jean collection was a declaration by the designer of her intent to share and trace “secular traditions through narrative images.” On a quest for inspiration, Jean traveled to Haiti with the ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative team and discovered the Haitian tradition of Art Naif.
Translated from French, Art Naif stands for “naïve art,” and is an approach to figurative painting that does not comply to rules of perspective on dimensions intensity of color, or accuracy of the drawing.
The result evokes a child’s universe, hence the use of the term “naïve” or “naïf.” The Art Naif markets surrounded Jean with artisanal and skilled handicrafts. Jean felt especially intoxicated by the hustle and bustle of the “tap-tap,” or public transportation, which is its own form of pop art on wheels.
The buses are adorned with artwork, iconic phrases, proverbs, or messages and are painted by artists attending schools specializing in tap-tap painting. In addition to the “tap-tap,” donkeys, and sugarcane are recurring Haitian elements that appear on prints throughout the collection.
As driven as she is to explore new cultures, Stella Jean simultaneously cares about empowering the women continuing these cultural traditions. Jean is deeply involved with the ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative, a program that links the world’s top fashion talents to marginalized artists.
These artists, mostly women, are found in countries like Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti, Kenya, and Mali. Through this connection, the artists are able to take control and change their lives for the better.
As an initiative partner, each Stella Jean collection includes textiles, embellishments, or finished products made through the Ethical Fashion Initiative projects around the world.
Jean explains to Ecouterre that it was fundamental for the brand to empower the communities aiding in the creation of each of her collections.
“It’s all about creating luxury handwork produced 100 percent ethically by disadvantaged communities, generating work, and creating an infrastructure where the fashion luxury business can develop and produce products,” she says.
Creating a business that is accountable, environmentally sound and promotes sustainable economic development and opportunities was a top priority for Jean.
Jean praises her mentor Simonetta Gianfelici who introduced her to Simona Cipriani, the official in charge of the ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative. Without these individuals, Jean believes that she would not have achieved the results she has achieved up until this point.
To the people viewing Stella Jean collections, the designer hopes that each collection stimulates in the viewer a new thought, a new approach, and to stimulate the conscience.
“If we can mix in an outfit, with elements coming from the most distant and different cultures of the world and the result is good, we definitely can embrace this juxtaposition of cultures in real life,” Jean says.