In this week of Fashion Fridays With Joanna, we are gonna take a look at Haitian-Italian designer, Stella Jean. Stella is a member of the Italian Chamber of Fashion and the only member of Afro-European background. Living and working in Rome, Jean is considered to be Giorgio Armani's protégé.
Stella Jean was born in 1979 and raised in Rome to a Haitian mother, Violette Jean, and an Italian father, Marcello Novarino. She studied political science at the Sapienza University of Rome before dropping out. Growing up biracial in Rome, she and her family received stares from people and even harsh words. “Italy wasn’t ready,” she said “I felt Italian, but other people didn’t allow me to be it.” From ages 16 to 18, she tried identifying as Haitian. Haitians knew she wasn’t, but they asked fewer questions about her family tree so she felt more at ease, which pushed her to study her mother’s homeland and its history, culture, and art.
Not much is known about her personal life but her work presents her love of learning different cultures and interpreting them into her designs. Stella’s story was no overnight success. The self-taught Italian-Haitian designer failed to qualify for Vogue Italia’s ’s talent competition "Who Is On Next". Her luck seemed to have kicked in during her third try because she not only qualified but also won. She won the support of industry heavyweights, such as Suzy Menke, and most of all, Giorgio Arman, who personally selected her Spring/Summer 2014 collection to show at his 550-seat Teatro Armani show space in Milan, as well as lending his communications team. This opportunity was huge for Stella because it was the first time Armani has ever shared the stage with another designer. For Jean's spring/summer 2014 collection, she collaborated with the International Trade Centre's Ethical Fashion Initiative. As a result, the printed fabrics for this collection were sustainably sourced, hand-crafted, and aimed at helping trade workers in disadvantaged communities in Africa. Jean's designs have also attracted the attention of Louboutin and been worn by the likes of Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Zendaya over the years. She also collaborated on shoes with Christian Louboutin for her AW14 collection, which featured her first menswear collection.
Since 2013, Jean has traveled to Haiti, Burkina Faso, Mali, Kenya, Bein, and Peru to design a capsule collection that she presents at Milan Fashion Week each Fall. When asked by an interviewer from Forbes Magazine in 2019 if she had any specific goals she planned to accomplish with her designs and her strategy of incorporating the different cultures into her designs, “I use fashion as a tool to fight against any cultural segregation.” She also said, “For me, fashion is very conceptual. I want to share ideas and tell stories through my work...To create a sort of marriage between my Italian background and international patterns in order to produce something that has a mixed origin, one with its own distinctive identity: something local that aspires to the global.” In the article with Forbes, she also gives some examples of the different cultures that she was informed of. “In Benin, for example, the people produce a beautiful, hand-loomed fabric.” She even mentioned the things she learned from her mother’s home in Haiti. Jean discovered a longstanding tradition of decorative metalwork and wondered if she could adapt it into jewelry. Together with local artisans, she designed metal bangles that depict various aspects of Haitian culture. In her recent 2020 collection, she incorporated eye-catching African prints and classic Italian fabrics. Bold prints, floral crochet embroidery, Haitian-inspired motifs, and a touch of simplicity are woven into the pieces.
Stella Jean is a fashion icon in the making and she's doing it while remaining humble and bringing out the beauty of different cultures into mainstream fashion. When asked why she chose fashion as a career path she stated, “For me, it has begun as a personal necessity. Born in Italy in the late ’70s and struggling–being so diverse from my fellow citizens, has motivated me to find a way to show people not to be afraid of different cultures and colors. But, instead of seeing them as opportunities and as a chance to grow better, together. I use fashion as a tool to fight against cultural segregation. The beauty of fashion has no borders. This allows me to ‘talk’ through fashion without preconceived opinions. Just beauty.”
True to her heritage, Stella Jean is compassionate about inclusion and uplifting the vulnerable and voiceless. For each collection, she collaborates with Laboratorio di Sartoria Sociale Coloriage, an atelier in Rome where migrants and those seeking asylum develop skills and work on creative projects. The fabrics used for the turbans in this collection were sustainably sourced in Mali, Ghana, and Ivory Coast and assembled at Coloriage (stellajean.it).
It’s also important to note that she is the first and only Italian fashion designer to take to the stage at a BLM protest (this took place in June of 2020) and to, in her own words, publicly denounce the existence of racial discrimination within the country of Italy.
-Her decision to use her mother's maiden name for the brand was in order to equally represent both parts of her heritage; a consideration that is also evident in her collections.
-Jean was studying political science at Sapienza University of Rome, when she dropped out to model for Egon von Fürstenberg, the fashion designer and ex-husband of Diane von Fürstenberg.
-In September 2013, Giorgio Armani - in an unprecedented move - personally selected Jean's spring/summer 2014 collection to show at his 550-seat Teatro show space during Milan Fashion Week.
-Mother of two, and resides in Rome with her children.
-You can find her website here.
See you next week with another installment!