Toussaint Louverture was a talented strategist and soldier who played the Spanish against the British against the United States against the French (his biggest ally, as France had abolished slavery) to create the conditions for sugar-rich Haiti’s independence in 1804 (although by then he had perished from yellow fever). Today he starred on the sweater in Look 6 of this Stella Jean collection. The designer played fast and loose with Louverture’s narrative by presenting him as a woman. In 2019, why not?
This interesting and attractive offering looked at narratives cultural, colonial, and (in that sweater) gendered, and then presented them—as is any author’s privilege—from a subjective point of view. What authenticated that point of view (something especially important in Italian fashion right now) was its anchorage in Jean’s own identity as a Haitian-Italian.
As she said backstage: “In this collection, our bourgeois young lady made an inverse grand tour—the kind of cultural trip made in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. But here she starts from tropical destinations like French Polynesia and Haiti, and then she arrives in the Old Europe, which you can see through the still lifes inspired by the Dutch artistic tradition.”
As well as these Willem Kalf–like images, Jean showed faux-na?f representations of Pacific beach scenes informed by Gauguin printed on striped woolen coats. There was a consistent emphasis on intersecting lines of color aka check—itself reflective to this eye of the north-of-the-border cultural touring the English were wont to do in the age of Sir Walter Scott. Patterned beading on belts and slippers looked drawn from various African and South American decorative traditions; lining details on check coats were reminiscent of the Dutch print that remains such a mainstay of African apparel.