Despite being relatively new to the scene, Stella Jean, the Italian-Haitian designer who is one of Milan’s rising stars, has already found her own highly recognizable fashion recipe. Her optimistic brand of colorful multiculturalism is a clever mix of bourgeois shapes—either proudly ladylike or tomboyish and mannish—and high-impact prints. Stella Jean, the brand, is based on Stella Jean, the person: In either sharply tailored slacks and loafers or a stripey shirt and a balloon skirt over spiky stilettos, the designer is a great ambassador for her own vision, which is a potent magnet for prospective customers. It gives a sense of authenticity to her eccentric mix-and-match approach. Keeping shapes relatively consistent, each season Jean travels to a different place, finding patterns and motifs to create a sensational visual blast. This season, she explained, “I left home to come back home.” In other words, the Rome-born designer merged Italian tailoring with the art of Haiti, her mother’s birthplace.
A noteworthy giraffe-spot print, produced in Africa in collaboration with the Ethical Fashion Initiative, was the result of a mud-fermentation process. It got cut into a shapely blazer. Elsewhere, brightly colored Haitian scenes were printed on flowing silk skirts and dresses. The mood was fresh and cheerful, as light as a breeze. The large T-shirts worn over siren skirts created an odd yet appealing silhouette, while shirtdresses came across as comfortably seductive. The peplums, on the other hand, felt a bit heavy.
Despite its charm, the collection was somewhat repetitive, and it wasn’t really a departure from the Stella Jean we are already familiar with. The embellished ladylike coats and the balloon skirts, in particular, were vintage-y tropes that Jean has already indulged in. Which raises the question faced by designers who, like Jean, tend to work around a monothematic concept: how to progress without compromising? It takes guts. Recently, Mary Katrantzou left the realm of digital prints to test new waters. In a few seasons, Stella Jean should consider doing the same.