When Haitian-Italian designer Stella Jean was first picked out as a winner of Franca Sozzani's Who is on Next? talent competition, she had an upbeat but theatrical vision of Africa and its diaspora. She started with pattern, colour and a sprightly, jokey style.
Working with the Ethical Fashion Initiative of the International Trade Centre, a United Nations agency, the designer started working with African fabrics handwoven by women in landlocked Burkina Faso and Mali. Her shows were fun, caricaturist and even had beginners' gaffes such as models falling off their high-heels.
But something happened earlier this year when the designer brought in a gospel choir singing Coolio’s "Gangsta’s Paradise" to accompany her show. The clothes also seemed more in tune with modern life.
For Spring/Summer 2017 everything fell into place. There were still live musicians on stage, but Stella Jean had a “eureka” moment: the uniting force of sport. As she put it: “Football is played in streets, among market stalls — it is still the simplest form of communication between kids of all ages — without the need for wi-fi.”
So sport was on the agenda — and on the runway as STFC: Stella Jean Football Club. That was printed on sports shirts while men’s and women's clothes focused on sportswear, like a slither of a stretch dress or a man’s horizontally-striped jacket. With not a hint of her previous tribal style, Stella Jean made patterns, shapes and even a rounded leather bag as a bow to the glorious game.
This really was a breakthrough moment for Stella Jean, as she wove patches of fabric into a slim and streamlined dress and married a striped soccer shirt with a long skirt embroidered at the hip line. There were no African caricatures: just a feeling of colour, joy and print kept beautifully under control.