Jamaica’s biggest exports may be rum, coffee, sugar and Usain Bolt but as the country celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence this summer, it’s beginning to make a name for its fashion industry too, thanks in no little part to Jamaica Style Week (JSW). The annual four-day event bills itself as “the iriest fashion week in the Caribbean” and hosts a series of outdoor shows and parties at heritage sites around Kingston.
This year’s JSW began on Thursday 21 May, with High Tea ‘N Style, a charity fashion show hosted by the First Lady Patricia Allen on the lawns of King’s House. This was followed by the men’s collections at Devon House and the women’s shows (dubbed the International Mecca of Style) in Port Royal, where the catwalk navigated cannons and battlements. And taking us out with a bang on Sunday was Fashion Block, a free street level show that attracted thousands of exuberant onlookers.
Far from the hallowed atmosphere of the international fashion weeks, here it’s all about flavour. Catwalk theatrics included a brief appearance by guest of honour Tyson Beckford; a show where male models handed out red roses to front row fillies; a dance troupe who did a routine to Beenie Man’s Rum & Redbull and a model competition that invited female volunteers from the audience to take part in a pose-off. A four-year-old girl won.
The fashions were just as spirited. Over 30 designers showed collections aimed firmly at island life. Revealing swimwear, tropical sun dresses and gala gowns dominated for women while menswear veered from showy dancehall styles to more sedate suiting, casual denim and sportswear. Jamaican flag-hued Golden Jubilee collections also proliferated. “JSW has energy, it’s crazy – I just love it,” says Courtney Washington, an established designer who specialises in loosely tailored linens. “I give it my full support because it’s a unique event with genuine feeling.”