Dozens of designers from Haiti and around the world showcased their spring-summer collections against a lush tropical background during the recent Haiti Fashion Week.
The January 28-31 event in Petionville focused on the theme “Innovation” and “haute couture” this year. Event founder Maguy Durce said her main goal was to show Haiti in a positive light, as opposed to negative images usually portrayed by the international media.
“Haiti Fashion Week is a cultural event. But we want to use it to respond to President [Donald] Trump — to his negative comments [about Haiti] — because we think if he saw what was happening this week at El Rancho [hotel], he would say, 'Hey, I lied,' or, 'Hey, I was wrong,' or, 'I was misinformed,' " Durce said.
Trump's reported use of a vulgar term to describe Haiti and African nations angered the Haitian-American community and sparked rallies in Port-au-Prince, New York, Palm Beach and Boston to denounce racism. Haiti's ambassador to the United States said the comments about Haiti "hurt the country."
The fifth edition of Haiti Fashion Week had been scheduled for November 2017, but was rescheduled after some of the designers said their collections would not be ready in time.
Young fashion designer Maille Timothee, whose fashion line is called MAE, presented her designs for the first time this year. She won applause for her colorful dresses made with unconventional textiles.
“I wanted to do something unconventional. Something unexpected. So I mixed different fabrics that people would not expect, and even what I’m wearing is an example of that," she explained.
Timothee is the daughter of seasoned Haitian designer Immacula Pericles, who runs a highly acclaimed fashion school called Academie Verona. She also participated in Haiti Fashion Week, showcasing a collection of dresses made in the colors of the national flag and representing the natural beauty of the Caribbean country. Her collection wowed the audience.
“Well, I’ve been doing these designs for a long time now, so it’s new to some people, but we’ve been around a while," Pericles noted. "The theme of our fashion school is Haiti will survive - so my goal is first to incorporate sustainable materials and second to make the clothing using the same international standards the big fashion houses use so that we can sell our line anywhere in the world.”
Pericles said Haiti has huge potential to excel in the fashion world.
French designer Marie-Caroline Behue flew from Paris to Port-au-Prince and went straight to work on her collection. A first-time participant in the event, she admitted to being awed by the quality and intricacy of the designs.
“I knew nothing about Haiti Fashion Week and I was amazed by the level of detail in the designs," she admitted. "I’ve worked in the French haute couture design houses and I can tell you the designs I saw here meet the bar - and to be honest, what really piqued my interest was the men’s haute couture, because when one thinks of haute couture, they naturally think of women’s fashion, but here in Haiti, I was like, 'Wow! They’re got couture men’s clothing.'”
Haitian-American designer Marcia Roseme, whose collection features bright colored separates matched with muted tones, traveled from New York to show her first collection at Haiti Fashion Week.
“It was a great event; there were a lot of different styles that represented many markets. There was a lot of innovation, a lot of creativity and unique styles - I really like that,” she told VOA.
Organizer Durce, who put in many long hours to pull off a culturally rich and diverse showcase of Haitian and international artistry, was pleased with the turnout and the positive reviews from the national and international press.
“Africa Fashion TV has been here all four days, broadcasting our fashion shows live, so what we’re doing here in Haiti is being seen in 29 African countries and all over the world. Each time a person tweets or posts something about Fashion Week to Facebook, it raises Haiti's image to a higher level.”
Durce said she’s looking forward to the sixth edition of Haiti Fashion Week - to be held in 2019.
Matiado Vilme contributed to this report from Petionville