Stella Jean (born 1979) is an emerging Haitian-Italian fashion designer and former model, whose cultural identity often provides inspiration for her eponymous label.
Jean was born and raised in Rome to a Haitian mother, Violette Jean, and an Italian father, Marcello Novarino. She studied political science at Sapienza University of Rome, before dropping out to model for Egon von Fürstenberg, fashion designer and ex-husband of Diane von Fürstenberg. It is here where she realized that she would rather make the clothes than wear them.
She began receiving attention at Italian Vogue’s “Who Is On Next” contest in 2011, when she won second place, after she twice failed to qualify. Jean was rewarded with €5,000, which gave her the chance to establish her label and produce her next collection, which she showed in Rome, with the help of a Milan-based showroom. ‘It was pretty tough at the beginning. I didn’t even know how to buy fabric, pay factories, how much fabric was needed, and so on. But I had constant support from Alta Roma and the editors at Italian Vogue.’
Jean has since garnered the support of industry heavyweights, such as Suzy Menkes , and most of all, Giorgio Armani , who personally selected her spring/summer 2014 collection to show at his 550- Teatro show space in Milan, as well as lending his communications team – the first time he has ever shared both with another designer.
Armani’s gesture proved to be a cornerstone moment in her career. The collection that Jean sent down the runway was full of bold colours and mismatched patterns in ladylike 1950s and 60s silhouettes. The models wore knotted fabric headbands and coloured flowers in their hair, shirts were knotted over colourful bras, waists were nipped in and the oversized accessories were as riotous as the clothes. Jean took her final bow wearing a T-shirt that read grazie mr armani. They had met two days previously at an event organised by Italian Vogue and Jean was so overwhelmed that she cried in front of him. ‘I felt so small talking to such a giant,’ she told me. During the show he wasn’t sitting in the front row, but appeared backstage to congratulate her. He had watched from behind the scenes and loved it.
For her spring/summer 2014 collection, Jean travelled to Burkina Faso, west Africa, with the International Trade Centre’s Ethical Fashion Initiative, a United Nations project, to source local fabrics in underprivileged areas. She met artisan weavers and embroiderers and, overwhelmed by the wealth of talent, returned home brimming with hand-woven striped fabrics and ideas. In April 2014 she was selected by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to exhibit several outfits in its Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945-2014 exhibition.
Jean’s heritage and family continue to inspire her. For womenswear she cites photographs of her mother and grandmother, hence the 1950s and 60s silhouettes of her clothes, with a cinched-in waist and exaggerated fullness at the hips. For her menswear line she draws on memories of her late father’s classic Italian style. She calls it a ‘wax and stripes philosophy’: the wax fabrics from her mother’s heritage combined with the stripes from her father’s shirts from Turin. She describes her own personal style as ‘mannish’. ‘I do wear feminine circle skirts on occasion, but I’m usually dressed like a man, often in men’s clothes. I was very close to my father so I wear some of his things. And I love Church’s shoes.’