International fashion weeks

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.”

CFDA Awards 2012

CFDA Awards 2012: Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Anna Wintour.

Instead, the night belonged to the fashion industry. Billy Reid, who divides his time between New York and Alabama, was honored for best menswear. His clothes are grounded in a kind of Southern Americana. His jackets are roomy; his trousers have texture. He does not traffic in hipster attitude. Reed Krakoff was named best accessory designer for his signature collection—a group of tasteful handbags and shoes that evoke good breeding rather than the sort of in-your-face edginess that turns heads and has historically made editors swoon. The top women’s-wear award went to The Row, created by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. It is a decidedly grown-up brand, one that appeals more to a 30-something woman than a girl fresh from adolescence. (In the CFDA video celebrating the brand, the clothes were modeled by the 70-something writer and artist Beatrix Ost who appears in “Advanced Style”—an homage to older women.) The Row is understated, luxurious, and inattentive to trends.
Those industry veterans receiving special awards included Andrew Rosen—a name the average person probably has never heard—and Tommy Hilfiger, whose clothes are probably in Everyman’s closet. Rosen is a third-generation, garment-industry man, but his name isn’t on any label. In presenting his award, designer Kenneth Cole noted: “So often in fashion we celebrate the frontman. Tonight we honor someone in the shadows.”

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