As a UN global ambassador, Stella Novarino’s mission involves collaborating—and living with— artisans all over the world, not just to show their crafts through fashion, but to help communities become and remain self-sufficient. Previous collaborations have taken the designer to Ghana, Benin, Mali, Burkina Faso, Pakistan and, lately, Peru—as well as Haiti, where her maternal family tree is rooted.
“When you go to these countries, it’s like a candy shop for creatives—you want to use everything,” she recounted during a showroom visit. That’s not possible, of course, but a designer also has to communicate what she’s doing. “When you’re living in a place without water or electricity, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything to the people there that you’re putting their work on an international catwalk. The cliché doesn’t work, but it gives you the freedom of a blank page.”
The trick, then, is to come up with a cultural fusion of fashion and craft. For spring, that might mean splicing her bestselling shirt dresses with an openwork, embroidered bustier, or a contrasting, scarf-like print. The palm tree motif, a nod to Novarino’s home in the Marche region of Italy, appeared on springy color-blocked dresses, as openwork at the midriff or at the knee. At a time when minimalism reigns, Novarino makes a case for exuberance. Her heart is in the right place, in any case. Plus her work is about to step onto a world platform: Stella Jean is currently developing uniforms for Haiti’s Olympic athletes. “It’s not the biggest team, but we’re trying to make them the most elegant,” she said.