SPRING 2018 READY-TO-WEAR : STELLA JEAN

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Stella Jean’s backstory this season is a goody. The Haitian designer discovered La Paz, Bolivia’s Cholitas luchadores community—and was instantly inspired. The Cholitas are “petticoat wrestlers” or “fighting goddesses” who wear their colorful native dress in the ring and out of it, and have faced discrimination for doing so. As Jean tells it, they’re forbidden to travel by public bus and taxi because they haven’t adopted modern Western dress. Through their visibility in the wrestling ring, they’re bringing awareness to their mistreatment and have become symbols of indigenous pride. “To me,” Jean said backstage, “it’s a message of how fashion can be a powerful tool of independence.”

This kind of cultural appropriation can be a tricky business for a designer. Jean has wrestled with it in the past, but here, she handled it well, presenting a short video before the start of the show in which a young Bolivian woman discussed her country’s cholas and thanked Jean for shining a light on them. A celebration of their culture an ocean away won’t affect the cholas one way or the other, but it’s a positive development when a designer acknowledges the debt she owes to her source of inspiration.

The clothes were engaging, too, obviously influenced by the chola culture but not too costumey, despite the surfeit of embroidered ruffles, peasant tops and skirts, and traditional hats. A vivid green tie-dye shirtdress worn unbuttoned over matching shorts was a highlight, along with the patchwork print of ikat weaving used for a trim shirt and cropped pants. Some of the sport-couture combos were a little silly—who’s really going to wear an embroidered duchesse ball skirt with her exercise tank and leggings?—but the Stella Jean Wrestling Team logo shirts nailed the current fashion moment on the head.

By: Nicole Phelps | September 24, 2017

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