By Delfine Kernizan
A little after 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 7, the sounds of the tambou, or Haitian drum, began to spill out of a small boutique on Grand Street and into New York City’s trendy SoHo neighborhood. A drummer named Fito was preparing his drum to accompany the smooth, sultry melodies of Haitian songstress Riva Nyri Precil. The models were dressed, the crowd gathered, and the show was about to start.
On the main wall of the style-centric Wolf & Badger boutique hung a few pieces from the I Am Kreyol Lotus Capsule Collection. The collection was diverse in both design and wearability, with pieces ranging from couture gowns to pencil skirts and ruffled tops. Guests looked on and were able to touch and feel the pieces, made of fabrics rich in texture, color and large floral prints, clearly inspired by nature and the lotus flower.
“The Lotus collection is exactly what it is,” said designer and founder, Joelle Fontaine. “So if you think about the lotus flower, you know, she’s kind of like the flower that grows in unfavorable conditions. And I think that’s what the I am Kreyol woman represents. She represents someone who is resilient, who’s bold, who’s strong. She’s able to grow in an area where most wouldn’t expect her to grow.”
As a lotus flower herself, having fled political unrest in Haiti and restarting her life and business, Fontaine hopes to use the Lotus Collection’s Indiegogo campaign to go back to Haiti and help other women grow out of unfavorable conditions.
“For me, it’s been a long time coming and it’s been something that I’ve wanted to do for many, many years.,” she said. “To be able to go back home and impact job creation back home and to be able to impact the lives of women back home so that they can have choices. So they can have the opportunity to create the lives that they want.”
The brand hopes to secure enough funding to manufacture the entire collection in Haiti.
“Through Indiegogo, we’ve raised $10,000 so far, which is super amazing. We have like 147 backers, which is blowing my mind,” said Fontaine. “Right now, we’re able to do our t-shirts and our tote bags in Haiti, but the pieces, the collection, we don’t have enough yet to produce that in Haiti. We need to really be at $20,000 to be able to go back home and make a significant impact. So that’s what we’re pushing for.”
The two models in attendance, standing on either side of the collection, seemed to complete the exhibition. In addition to a short, floral A-line dress in an abstract floral print and blue, ruffled vest, and a dramatic high-low top with puffed sleeves, a long train and a large floral print, both models wore circular, metal goggles. The collection was the opposite of predictable and went beyond traditional Haitian influences, drawing alternative conclusions about the inspiration behind the collection.
“I just love the Victorian influence,” visual artist Sara Jean-Baptiste said while looking on at the collection. “As people of African descent, Caribbean descent, Haitian descent, we’re like, so eclectically diverse. And I think you can see European influence, but what does that say about, like, our roots. Like we’re so Kreyol, we’re a mix of everything. So I just feel like it’s a true testament to just unity, and just showing an eclectic culture, which is what Haitian people are.”
Jean-Baptiste went on to describe a green gown, in a textured fabric with gold dots, that stood out to her. “Out of all the pieces here, I feel like that one just says, I don’t know, it’s just very historically classic. Like I could see this in the Smithsonian.”
The history of “Kreyol” people was present in all aspects of the collection preview.
As Precil enchanted the crowd with songs from traditional Haitian folklore, accompanied by Monvelyno and Fito, Wolf & Badger began its transformation. One by one, the models turned the gathering into a fashion show, using the empty space as a runway. As they each took their place behind Precil and the band, posing on the staircase and the railing above, they painted a scene reminiscent of nights in Haiti: a community of women gathering, sharing traditional stories of resilience, culture and strength.
Delfine Kernizan, or “Coco” of The Coco Gawdess, is an NYC-based fashion, beauty and lifestyle blogger and YouTuber. In addition to running her own fashion brand, she works with other fashion and beauty brands to help women master effortless & affordable style. She is also a Business and Marketing Consultant, helping brands turn problems into profit.