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  • Writer's pictureLocale Jamaica

Bold and Beautiful: Discovering Identity in Caribbean Art, Fashion and Craftsmanship

Another Jamaican carnival season is on the horizon. As revellers from the West Indies and beyond put in those extra reps at the gym and gear up for the bacchanalia, Locale will be stocking stockings by @karnivalbykandi as a nod to the cultural emblem. Those familiar with our patch of oasis nestled among the minted towers of New Kingston should know that these items will sit peachy on our shelves.

Locale is a concept store offering a thoughtfully curated selection of unique items, all unified in presenting a rich interpretation of the “Caribbean locale.” The boutique houses art, fashion, and accessories, as well as home and gift items that are each evaluated and handpicked for style and quality, as well as the splinter of brilliance they reflect in the Caribbean mosaic. But what exactly is this Caribbean identity?

Here we'll explore aspects of the Caribbean identity, interpreted through the art, fashion and craftsmanship that represents the region.

The Art of Being West Indian

The Caribbean identity is a tapestry as rich as any other. Each island brings its own flavour to the melting pot, but there is also an undeniable symmetry most palpable in our art and expression.

When it comes to Caribbean artwork, it’s not just the subject matter that is rich in heritage. There is also an innate exuberance that is as vibrant as the climate. The palette draws from the shimmering turquoise waters saturated with wildlife as striking as those on land, colour in scales and feathers, birds of paradise growing lush among the verdant, the rustle of their leaves carried on the island breeze under the call of the surrounding nature.

Such a vivid catalyst can only result in passionate artistry. Just look at the work of Kingston-based digital collage and mixed media artist Idris Veitch. Veitch’s work explodes with an uncanny imagination depicting Afro-surrealist portraits and unlikely intersectionalities. The images exude a particular boldness that can be seen in almost every aspect of Caribbean culture, like carnival, for instance.

Bonito Thompson’s work pops in a more distinctive way. The Jamaican artist incorporates QR codes into his artwork that resolve to striking augmented reality renditions that literally jump off the canvas, often revealing the eye of a Yardie bon vivant, and interspersed with gripping social commentary. For Gavin Jordan and his “sculpted paintings”, dimension comes in an even more unlikely form—screws. His subject matter, however, is not so unexpected, reminiscent of a Caribbean idyll.

Sculptured paintings
Artist: Gavin Jordan

These Caribbean artists occupy disparate spaces, but they each present a compelling portrait of the Caribbean creative.

Fashionably Forward - Masters of the Bold

West Indians love to dress up. Luckily, perhaps thanks to the fair-weather climate and the equally sunny people, there is almost always an occasion for fashion.

Events like carnival call for a particular style of costumery, but that same bold self-expression is a distinct feature of the Caribbean fashion scene. Whether it’s vibrant colours, the drama of a fabulous print kaftan robe caught on the wind, or a scene-stealing statement accessory, Caribbean fashion embraces the gasp!

It’s not always easy to be bold, especially when it comes to fashion, but West Indians have it mastered. There is a certain sense of freedom that is innate in Caribbean style. West Indians recognise and value originality, personality, confidence and expression.  It’s more about individuality than conformity, and, most importantly, if you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong. The Caribbean just might be the one place where “doing the most” has been made into an art form. Sometimes you just have to“ova dweet!”

The mastery, however, is most keenly seen in the myriad ways this boldness is presented. A perfect example is what Caribbean native Aaron Moneer achieved in his final Mission Catwalk collection.

The collection is a triumph for Caribbean and resort wear fashion. Building on a simple palette of white, gold and red, each piece a solid colour, Moneer delicately structures and layers a series of masterpieces smartly accentuated with intricate yet subtle detailing, like his signature latticework. The silhouettes are as elegant as they are striking, evoking visions of sunsets by the shore, inhaling the light sea breeze, and Havana night milieus lined with salsa, tapas and chilled bottles of Red Stripe. The result may aptly be described as bold sophistication.

And it’s not just regional designers who are catering directly to the Caribbean’s chic clique. Designers like Korto Momolu, Cesar Galindo, and Carlton Jones are all long-time favourites of the region’s fashion vanguard and masters of the gasp factor.

But, of course, it's more than the clothes. Since no look is complete without the right accessories, this is also a major factor in the Caribbean moda.

When it comes to jewellery, Peace-Is of Bianca’s signature handcrafted treasures are known for being stylish statement pieces—the statement being more like a well-crafted exposition on the strength and grace of Caribbean feminity. The brand’s recent collaboration with Gabrielle J. Worton is their most understated collection yet, revealing yet another layer of Caribbean style.

Meanwhile, in Cape Town, South Africa, the creators at Dyad have also found the perfect balance between strength and fluidity. Dyad’s handmade leather bags are a study in effortless style, presenting ethereal, modern designs made doubly exquisite by the fact that they are also durable and expertly crafted. This aesthetic perfectly captures the originality, style and quality that modish West Indians crave in their fashion diet.

Similarly, new-age French perfumer Maison Matine’s iconoclast brand embraces the rebel spirit that is a consistent feature of the region’s music and cinema. Their series of limited-edition fragrances, exploding with personality from the scent to the packaging, eschew extravagance and the typical plea to opulence and embrace simplicity, diversity and sustainability while maintaining the standard of quality that epitomises French perfumery. The fact that the brand is youth-led is an added bonus for West Indians.

Trends abound in the world of fashion, and the Caribbean’s haute posse is by no means immune, but, when it comes to style, West Indians dress themselves.

Forging a Caribbean Standard of Quality

Artisanship is as much a part of the Caribbean heritage as reggae and rum. The region is rich in nature, with more than a few creatives, so it makes sense that locals should have an abundance of artisan-made products to choose from.

The benefits of artisan-made products for the buyer, the market, and the environment have long been extolled. Thoughtfully made and built with quality in mind using sustainably sourced, natural ingredients and materials, there is so much to appreciate. Along with being top-shelf, artisan-made products also have the added value of being cultural emblems, often reflecting longstanding traditions and the cultural background of the makers.

Take a bite out of a Likkle More chocolate bar, for instance, and you’ll be savouring the product of quality Jamaican ingredients and craftsmanship. Flavours like their Scotch Bonnet Pepper and Blue Mountain Coffee chocolates offer a taste of the culture as well. This is not your typical chocolate bar, and the diversity of flavours and perspectives that brands like Likkle More bring to the market are part of what makes artisans such an important part of every culture.

For those looking to add some excitement to their shopping carts, small-batch artisan-made products provide a novelty experience that you won’t find anywhere else. The makers behind them, however, are the real stars. They continue to develop age-old traditions while bringing diversity and unique, culture-rich perspectives to the market.

Locale’s eponymous private label is a collaboration between the boutique and some of these makers. The Locale label features select items such as straw hats, bags and other accessories, as well as items for the home, all handmade from materials indigenous to the region.

Both Locale, the label, and Locale, the concept store, exist to provide a platform for these small-batch artisan creators to reach a viable market. The achievements of these makers highlight the myriad perspectives and unique experiences that make shopping fun and are necessary for a thriving marketplace. They also represent the standard of quality, craftsmanship and pride of their respective regions.

Locale - Curating Caribbean Art, Fashion and Craftsmanship 

Any Caribbean identity you could speak of is surely multifaceted. At Locale, we thoughtfully select each item to offer a carefully curated experience to our customers, embodying the "Caribbean Cool". Our mission, however, is to offer a constantly evolving panorama of what makes the Caribbean locale so special while elevating the narrative of the region we call home for a global audience. Get to know the region in our exhibition of Caribbean art, fashion and craftsmanship.


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