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Stella Jean: The Haitian-Italian Designer Speaks on the Bicultural Influence Of Her Designs

Stella Jean combines her Italian and Haitian background to create some of the stunning pieces in her self-named fashion line. Born in Rome of a Haitian mother and an Italian father, Jean is the mother of two young children and is widely recognized as one of the industry’s most avant guard designers.

Afro-Caribbean culture and a Euro influence, with a sligh hint of Asia permeate her designs. Most of the bracelets and necklaces of her accessories line are oversized; not bigger than life, but much bigger than the average wrist and neck.

Stella Jean’s designs can be found at some of the most exclusive boutiques in the world: Saudia Arabia’s chic Lo Spazo’s clothing store to France’s Jacques Loup to London’s Matches to Kuwait’s posh Al Ostoura.

As a woman of Haitian descent living in Italy, Jean affirms that there isn’t a big Haitian community there, but she remains close to her roots. She joined forces with the Haitian Embassy in Italy for Fashion-Able, an initiative to create textile-related jobs in Haiti. One of her most cherished memories of the first time she visited Haiti was meeting her grandmother Ninine, a smiling woman who absolutely loved gardening. The designer admits that she doesn’t go to Haiti often, but takes every chance to devour diri ak djon djon, he favorite Haitian dish.

When it comes to her career, she admits that it’s “pretty hard” as a designer who’s constantly on the go, to find time for herself. But having had developed the extreme endurance that every big player in the fashion industry must have, Stella Jean is doing just fine, thank you very much. And her parents? She labels them as her first—and one of her biggest—supporters.

Q & A

So you were born and raised in Italy.  I’ve find in fashion the necessary room to make my two opposite identities breathe, and conciliate finally. Having been born and raised in the Italy of the Eighties, as the result of a multiracial family, even if in a “milieu aisé”, it ain’t been easy or painless. I started in fashion as a model, and since the very first time I set foot in a fashion designer’s studio, I knew I was in my element. It was the right place to be, but the wrong way to be there. Eventually, I made some changes and found my own style, which allows me to express myself as a designer. When I’ve first presented my collection in July 2011 at “Who’s on Next”; AltaRoma and Vogue context in Rome, it represented to me a way to bring peace between the two most important parts of my personality, the European and the Creole. It’s not easy to find a balance in an emotional conflict such as the one I experienced between these two parts of my soul. Fashion gave me ample space to maneuver and find a place where both these cultures could coexist. This weak point became both a strength and a fresh start.

So prior to become a designer, you were a model for Egon Von Fürstenberg. Do you think that having been a model gave you some sort of edge when it comes to designing and concocting clothes?  It absolutely gave me a “full immersion training”, and the chance to know many different stylistic settings.

What gives you strength on your worst days?  My children and my faith.

You’ve said in past interviews, that your Haitian heritage inspires some of your designs. How so? In my collections, I just talk about me, my roots and Haiti’s historical metissages [interracial] journey.

Queen Marie Louise of Haiti actually went to live in Italy in the 1820s, and was reportedly a sensation everywhere she and her daughters the Princesses Amethyste and Athenaise went. Do you find yourself inspired by her, and the princesses as they were one of the first Haitians to have some link to Italy? Queens and princesses will never impress and inspire me much as slaves did.

What words of wisdom do you have for them in terms of how to get their names out there, and how to get a following—that sort of thing? I have two pieces of advice: Before even thinking about breaking into the industry, you must try to break into people’s hearts. You always have to put people before the industry. Your works must have your fingerprints on them. They have to show your personality and your history. You can’t find ideas on blogs and social networks, only through a long and not-always- easy journey into yourself –the very same journey that will always allow you to find a way home.

Do you think that your Italian background gave you a sort of advantage in the fashion world. After all, some might say, you’re already in one of the fashion capitals. Did that make starting out any easier, because you’re absorbing that world, and you grew up in the middle of it? It surely gave me a natural aesthetic tendency and sensitivity.

You are constantly wowing fashion critics and fashion lovers. What do you have planned for the world of fashion in times to come? As I am the result of a mix of different cultures and races that could appear completely opposed, I’d like to promote a sophisticated and alternative multiculturalism through fashion. Blending traditions that are so distant, I want to create new and unexpected cultural messages, while keeping the ability to balance content and shapes.

You can visit the designer’s website here.


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