Words by Erin Hansen ::: photos courtesy of BaseKingston
Despite the sometimes overtly male-dominated styles of the dancehall, until recently, Jamaica was lacking a proper men’s boutique, causing most style-savvy gents to hunt abroad for a little diversity in their look. Feeling that strain and frustrated by the options available to them, artist Jason Panton and songwriter Cezar Cunningham built their own sales rack with BaseKingston, taking from their sense of classic prep and tailored streetwear.
After six months of servicing Kingston, the store has become popular with local artists like Mavado and Wayne Marshall, who usually have to jetset for new styles. A growing and enthusiastic clientele has prompted Panton and Cunningham to expand into new terrain. Last Wednesday night the duo hosted the launch party for Belle, the female counterpart to BaseKingston, at Fiction Nightclub. Belle will be an exclusive women’s section of the store that includes the styles of its curator, Jamaican singer Tami Chynn, amongst affordable brands like Free People and Division E out of Los Angeles. Chynn emphasized the comfortable atmosphere of BaseKingston saying, “It feels like Cezar and Jason’s walk in closet. I want the woman’s section to have that same feel.”
BaseKingston is not to be confused with a high-end brand store, and Chynn made a point of describing it as “no frills,” saying that she intended to bring in American labels and mix them in alongside no-name brands as well. Chynn has also developed new designs for her cozy corner of the store with Belle the brand, a collection of basic everyday tees and t-shirt dresses with iconic prints. Expounding on Kingston’s general lack of stores that carried stylishly casual everyday wear for women, Chynn proposed Belle as the perfect solution for the daily cross-town race. Referencing images from iconic females such as Frida Kahlo and Coco Chanel, the brand–which debuts in the store next week, will provide basic wear with an added visual flare.
The mix of Cunningham and Panton’s style with Chynn’s seems ripe to sell-off, as the three come from diverse artistic backgrounds but share the “know-how” to make a collaboration work. At the launch, after the entourage of uptown hipsters slowly paired off into the club, Panton and Cunningham lingered on the patio, talking art and music with Largeup over drunken chicken wings and Guinness. Panton, who expanded upon his artistic abilities as a painter, built the label I & I four years ago, which has now become the most popular brand in the store, while Cunningham originally got a degree in architecture before settling on music. When asked how in the world they ended up in fashion retail, Cunningham responded, “Sometimes you just have to do what makes you happy.”