Wendy Fitzwilliam introduced me as the “Caribbean fashion guru”, during my incarnation as a judge on Caribbean’s Next Top Model (CNTM), a humbling accolade to which I graciously acquiesced. However, I accepted this role as a facilitator and a steward to enable creatives in the region, having pushed identity branding mandates and having informed the Caribbean aesthetic philosophy, for a generation, or so. Essentially, I think it is fitting and more so, within my purview, to honour inroads made by other Caribbean counterparts. Here’s to the style of the land of 365 beaches, a Wadadli adventure!
One of my designations was a three-year stint as a creative industry consultant to the Ministry of Trade, Commerce, Industry, Sports, Culture and National Festivals, under Chet Greene, where I participated in crafting an elevated consciousness of the integrity of the creative industry sector. One of the strategic components was an exciting themed competition, prompting a diverse range of upcoming imagers, to showcase their interpretation of a given topic, all within the framework of the Independence commemoration which is celebrated on All Saints Day.
The competition, in its contemporary format, is the brainchild of Trinidadian-born, Antiguan-based influencer, Vanda Neale-Gardner, a former runway siren, an uber stylist, a dynamic boutique proprietor and a passionate Chairperson of the Independence Fashion Show (IFS) Committee, who has transformed the event from strength to strength, over its more than 10-year history. Certainly, an event worthy of regional mention and one that other countries in the region could pattern their Arts-related outreach progammes in order to corral individuals of the creative arts, within an initiative that is both nation-building and inspirational. Under the ambit of the Festivals Commission, a Government agency, our production team has been privileged to be instrumental in coordinating a foray into innovation, imagination and ingenuity with themes like ‘Bois’, ‘Tell me your story’, ‘Prism’ and this year on the 38th year anniversary of Independence, ‘Antigua is home’. Indeed, the Government must be highly commended for providing such an indigenous platform for unearthing talent, in such a pioneering way.
I was not present, this year, but what a crescendo to all the impactful indoctrinations which we were instilling, over the years. With 15 competitors, presenting an X-Factor-like explosion of genius in each independent offering, culled from a reservoir of talented story-telling protagonists, the outcome was a masterpiece theatrical spectacular. The production had patrons oohing and aahing over the scintillating choreography and pushing-the-envelope stage dynamics.
The event has spawned successful follow-through, the likes of Garret Roberts and Launesha Barnes who went on to pursue national scholarship BFA studies at the Caribbean Academy of Fashion and Design at the University of Trinidad and Tobago. At this year’s experience, they were both presented recognition awards for ‘outstanding performance as a fashion designer and Fine Arts student’. This year’s winner, CNTM Season two runner-up, Nicoya Henry, copped the coveted title, earning a hoard of winnings – a CAFD scholarship, a cash prize and a comprehensive starter kit, brimming with necessities for an enthusiastic undergraduate fashion designer.
Neale-Gardner speaks proudly of the evolution of this installment in the creative landscape of Antigua and Barbuda. “I believe in promoting the intra-regionality of our cultural arts and the empowerment of our Caribbean creative arts practitioners as espoused by our mentor, Mister Richard Young, and endorsed, so engagingly, by the Government.” This year, the top three finalists demonstrated, with expressive distinction and through exquisite expositions, divergent styles – from enacting the serenity of the tranquil seas on a moonlit night – Ralstan Hughes, to portraying the unbridled talent of the human resource capability – Shirrine Gillon – to reminiscing on the nostalgic homegrown appeal of a resort lifestyle – Nicoya Henry.
The Independence Fashion Show (IFS), Antigua and Barbuda, makes style serve as an aspirational narrative fashioned through an anecdotal script of performance excellence, cutting-edge style, captivating trends and social impact signals. The production pays tribute to Ralph Lauren’s proposition “I don’t design clothes. I design dreams.”