I remember some years ago, being asked to be part of a panel discussion on Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation in Barbados, to discuss what essential feature influences what we wear on any given occasion. I iterated that our choice is as a result of an accumulation of preferential selections of style that we would have curated over a period of time. Another panelist, a young influencer from a popular Grenadian television programme, argued with me that he simply grabs whatever he feels to wear at the time of dressing and that his preference was devoid of that influence – that he determined his own sense of style. My point was that our choices were the outcomes of style, subliminally impacting us, as determined by imagers who had inspiration in the creation of said style. So we are never free of wearing someone else’s influence.
What determines these influences and inspirations? I am just back from producing a fashion show in Guyana, Style Mission 2019, a benefit fundraiser in aid of victims of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas, styled at the Grand Savannah Suite at the Pegasus Hotel. There, I focused on these same, said influences and inspirations in determining which designers would show.
Our Caribbean designers have a plethora of options to reference when imagining their design aesthetic and what a fertile ground of reference these designers represented. Being in Guyana I naturally featured the fashions of the style maven of Guyana, Sonia Noel. Her designs have consistently been inspired by either the Georgian or Victorian architecture that consumes Georgetown. She has patterned her detailing from the latticework replete in the wooden buildings, the crowning edifice of which is the nineteenth century, national monument, the St George’s Anglican Cathedral – the oldest and tallest wooden church in the world.
A reflection of our Afro-Caribbean style was manifest in the work of Gem Fraser, a designer whose layering techniques – combining textiles and mixing abstract prints – certainly attest to her African heritage in her design stamp. Moreover, she renders a modern silhouette in a fun-to-wear garment which is eye catching and makes for a conversation starter.
The influence of Amerindian folk style is most apparent in the sub-continental Caribbean space. Two designers at Style Mission 2019, revelled in their cultural stimulus. Natasha David, utilised the art of crochet to craft contemporary contours. Her collection previewed ready-to-wear designs embellished and adorned with traditional motifs, symbolic of the four main tribes – Warraus, Arawaks, Wapisianas and Caribs – of Guyana. The other, Vanda Alicock, preferred surface treatment application, through hand-painted images of flora and fauna on simple dresses, with shredded-edged hemlines and tribal etchings on breathing natural fibre tunics. The reverence for the indigenous presence was all too inspiring.
Guest designer at the showing was The Cloth, closing the show with eclectic designs, popping with resplendent colour and highlighting syncretic interpretations of Caribbean cross-cultural style in a mélange of appliqué art, indigo dye-work, Indo-inspired needlework and Neo-African shapes in Baltic linens.
What a spectacular défilé de mode Style Mission 2019 proved to be, brimming with influences and inspirations for our multi-ethnic Caribbean style sensibilities.