– As told to Antonia
The fashion world took notice of designer Stella Jean when she won Italy’s fashion talent competition Who’s on Next in 2011. Pop culture took notice when Rihanna Istagramed a picture of herself in the White House decked in one of Jean’s signature wax and stripes piece. But what the the world seems to be noticing and responding to the most about Stella Jean is not just the beautiful prints, bold colors and fun mixing, but the bigger stories she’s telling with her designs. Born to an Italian farther and a Haitian mother, Jean, as she says, is a result of two ‘opposite’ cultures melting together. This melting of cultures is visible in her designs but has a larger aim of creating a dialogue between cultures and making us less afraid of the things that exist far from what we consider familiar.
We had a chance to speak with Jean after her Fall/Winter presentation in Milan. Here’s her story.
Name: Stella Jean
Location: Milan/Rome, Italy
On the inspiration of the line:
It’s about the Indian Himalaya [Region] and I drew inspiration from the color, from the tradition, from the animal that I’m fascinated with: the yak. [The yak is] used for food, for work. They use it to go from one place to another. It’s a really symbolic element.
[The line] is based on a multicultural crossover, so I use really opposite cultural elements and then I blend them together. But it’s not just an aesthetic aim. [I want] to show that if opposite cultures can have a dialogue in styling—from India to Italy to Burkina Faso and Haiti—it can work in real life too. So we have to start to know each other in a different way without being scared of something far from the heart.
Did you fall in love with any fabrics as you were creating this line?
We realize a lot of the fabrics in the collection. Half of the fabrics are classic Italian fabrics that give balance to all the chromatic impact… of India’s colors and India’s chromatic impact.
What’s distinct about this line? Besides the culture you’re drawing inspiration from, how does it differ from the previous Fall/Winter collection?
A more relaxed attitude. More rock, more urban. …elements of Indian Himalaya give an urban twist… [The] shapes are more relaxed more cool and it’s maybe more wearable.
Why mix cultures?
It’s what I am, you know… half. I’m a melting pot. It’s really easy for me to reflect that. When you mix Italy with Haiti it seems bizarre, strange [at first]. But for me it comes so natural because it’s just what I am. That’s where I’m starting to draw inspiration—from other cultures, other countries. It’s not only about Italy and Haiti.
What’s been your biggest achievement so far?
People starting to talk not just of the aesthetic of the collection—how long is the skirt, what kind of cut the trousers have—but also about the culture that is beyond it. For me, fashion is a medium. It’s a way to communicate. I communicate my identity and the identity of the new generation because there will be more and more melting. We have to be ready for that change.
Here’s a fun question: which moment was more memorable, Rihanna wearing your dress or you speaking at the UN?
Oh wow! I was trembling the whole time. Because, as I said, for me fashion is a medium. What more than being at the UN, Palais de Nation, talking in a serious way [about my work]. It’s so strange because it’s great to be taken seriously. …and we have something important to say.
What’s been one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far?
To be credible. You can create lots of picturesque styles–funny, cute, beautiful [styles]… But you have to create a bridge between the show and real life. Because if I just make beautiful clothes that people won’t wear, it’s better to do nothing.
What keeps you motivated?
My kids. I’ve been through some struggles in my early years, being a stranger—zebra, white and black. So they are melted too to show them that it’s not a minus. It’s a treasure… and you can build so much around this new identity. It’s not Italian. It’s not Haitian. It’s what you want to be.
Mind sharing a fun fact?
I go to sleep by 10 o’ clock! [laughs]
Created in collaboration with ROUGH Italia Nichelle Cole, Editor-In-Chief of ROUGH Italia