MILAN - Haitian-Italian designer Stella Jean created a silhouette for her debut runway collection that was familiar yet exotic.
An oversized bell-shaped skirt kept in shape by a concealed petticoat both recalled a 1950s sock hop — a point she made by an argyle sweater pairing — and Creole styles reflecting her mother's origins, which received a nod through huge double-peaked head ties and tropical accents.
A formal runway model, Stella Jean demonstrated how restraint and tailoring can keep an exuberant look from veering into the cartoonish, even when a blue-and-white checked big-bubble skirt is paired with an enormously cut striped jacket in purple and blues and a tropical print bra top.
That equilibrium was evident also in the West African wax prints from Burkina Faso that formed another driving force of the collection. Stella Jean sources the textiles from Africa through an industry initiative to help disadvantaged communities make money through traditional crafts.
While Stella Jean fittingly indulged in bright colours and generously mixed-and-matched clashing patterns, she toned it down at times with understated shades, sometimes choosing a dusty blue over aquamarine, aqua green instead of a bolder shade, and mustard over canary yellow.
The collection's silhouette also included long hip-hugging skirts that flair into a dramatic mermaid-like train. She included pants and shorts in the mix, and masculine touches like striped shirts and men's hats.
The looks were finished with large golden animal-shaped medallions — one was a rooster — big beaded bracelets and jeweled accents.
The 34-year-old designer greeted the crowd in Giorgio Armani's theatre after her debut on Saturday, the fourth day of Milan Fashion Week, wearing a T-shirt that said: "Grazie Mr. Armani" and signed "Stella." While her creations are already sold in boutiques around the world, Stella Jean said backstage that the invitation to show in Armani's theatre "was a great demonstration of trust from a hallowed name in Italian fashion."
The designer grew up in Rome with an Italian father from Turin and a Haitian mother, and her fashion design break came when she was among the winners of Who's On Next competition in 2011.