Grace Jones calls it home, Tom Browne found himself “funkin’ “ for it and for many travelers, Jamaica is a destination for sun, beautiful beaches and some of the best fried fish and festival bread on the planet. Even if you’ve never been to the island country, you’re familiar with the music and culture that’s made it a prime tourist destination, and our latest discovery adds another feather to their cap. Hillary and I recently found ourselves in Kingston for a weekend of fashion, design and beauty at the thirteenth annual Caribbean Fashion Week. While we certainly had our share of escovitch fish and sun-soaked fun at Fort Clarence beach, we also discovered new talents and creativity unique to the West Indies, setting this fête apart from the more traditional fashion destinations in New York, Paris and Milan.
The three-day Caribbean Fashion Week event included a mix of emerging and established designer showcases from countries throughout the Caribbean as well as the U.S., Zimbabwe and Ethiopia. Some of our favorites included a beautiful line of summer beachwear by Ethiopian designer Mahlet Afework, British-born Gavin Douglas, who’s shown at CFW for nearly a decade and brought his sophisticated line of casual wear, and Jamaica’s own Ashley Martin, who displayed a mix of evening wear with funky designs that could work out for a night out with the girls or that event that calls for an ensemble made exclusively of white feathers. Kokobeenz was also fun, but more because of the line’s mix of quirky prom (bridal?) gowns juxtaposed with colorful speedos shown by nearly nude men. What’s not to like? Moncrieffe was another lovely line, mixing shorts and dresses in patterns of lush green and bright yellow.
The Caribbean and Ethiopian models were also inspiring. Because of the dearth of models of color on other catwalks, it was true joy watching beautiful brown faces strut up and down the catwalk. Star models Jeneil Williams (Gaultier), Oriane Barrett (Ralph Lauren) and Nell Robinson (Victoria’s Secret) not only gave us good face but they were each inducted into the Pulse Fashion and Beauty Hall of Fame.
For a bit of dancing, Saturday and Sunday’s showings ended with a special musical performance. Kelly Rowland closed out the second night’s show in a black leather overall ensemble that seemed hot for Kingston in June, but she made it work. On Sunday, Ninja Man, in his traditional flamboyant threads, opened for Sizzla who excited the crowd just before the one and only Sheila E closed the night with an incredible set. Thanks to all that talent, we were definitely living the glamourous life.
And when we ventured out by ourselves, we recognized that another part of Jamaica’s appeal is the local appreciation for the country’s natural beauty and cultural nuances. There’s no hard sell, no tourist billboards telling you how lucky you are to be in Kingston. You know you’re lucky as soon as you taste your first breakfast of ackee and saltfish or watch a World Cup qualifying football game on a tiny TV inside an Island Grill restaurant – Jamaica lost to the U.S. by the way, we weren’t sure if we should cheer or just smile silently. We did the latter. This country is a place where ‘No problem,’ and ‘Everything irie’ is more than just talk, it’s a way of life. What you see is what you get in Bob Marley’s homeland and nine times out of ten, you’re going to love it.
In its thirteenth year, I can easily see Caribbean Fashion Week becoming a destination for fashion lovers and emerging designers to glean inspiration, share fresh ideas and, of course, soak up some sun, music and good food. After all, where else can you go to enjoy great sartorial talent, watch a few mini-concerts and munch on plantain chips all in one place?