Words by Zuri Lyric Marley
Mesh marinas, crochet bikinis and anything red, gold and green are internationally-recognized signposts of the Caribbean lifestyle. “Palm trees, sun-soaked beaches and rum punch” bring everyone back to that one time they went to Ocho Rios… or was it Negril? The newest signifier of island life abroad is Tommy Hilfiger’s Spring/Summer 2016 collection.
The fashion show, timed to New York’s fashion week (DJ, cue up Shinehead’s “Jamaican in New York” in the background, please), featured models prancing down an elevated boardwalk, surrounded by sand and water. Now if you’re actually from the land of wood and water you know the origins of this imagery. Men working hard in the sun wearing marinas they bought for “likkle bit” downtown, or loud patterns sold on the street in Halfway Tree. Though the people who actually popularized these styles may never see a runway, privileged Jamaicans everywhere are now claiming their gardener’s attire as their own. Before we know it, Jamaica’s uptown fashionistas will be flocking downtown to buy the mesh marinas they once frowned upon.
The beautiful thing about Hilfiger’s collection is that he doesn’t just throw red, gold and green on the runway. He redefines the ‘70s bohemian fantasy, merging floor-length patchwork dresses with carefree prints and kaleidoscopic palettes. It was also refreshing to see the casting of Jamaican models in the show, helping capture the diverse nature of island fashion from sweet-yet-strong to rude gyal silhouettes.
Though Hilfiger is known to frequent the island of Mustique when in the Caribbean, the show was clearly Jamaican-centric, using soundtracks that I know too well. My grandfather’s music has been the backdrop for revolutionaries and hippie pot smokers alike. I’ve been lucky enough to experience his music on a personal level, in a way where it takes me on a journey of understanding him and the legacy that he left behind. Hearing a sick version of “Could You Be Loved” open and close the show was pretty cool, with other legendary reggae tracks in between; a fitting mix of old school reggae and dancehall that really helped transport everyone to the islands.
This collection clearly created waves–backlash might be a better word–in the media, but the tone of the reaction feels prematurely accusatory. What seems to be creating tension is actually the discourse that surrounds a product rather than the presentation itself. The show was extremely culturally aware, from the physical design of the clothes and the set to the music selections. Are we mad that Hilfiger is paying tribute to Bob Marley and Jamaican culture? Or is it his previous comments about he needed to “stick to his heritage” and bring the brand “back to our roots” after Hilfiger became a staple within the hip-hop community? Instead of mentioning the diversity of the show and praising Jamaica for bringing the culture in the first place, every article I read mentions Gigi Hadid, one even calling her “the ideal island girl,” when there are at least two Jamaican models in the show. Gigi Hadid is beautiful (no really, she’s fire) and really rocked her suit, but come on now – ideal island girl?
It is clear that the Caribbean sets the trend, and it is the re-purposing of those trends that creates new cultural channels that we can all get in on. Many are quick to pull the appropriation card but to this island girl, it seems like Hilfiger’s Antillean inspiration is informed and honest. Besides, fashion is always taking cues from different cultures, so Tommy isn’t the first and won’t be the last designer to highlight island life. With Mustique as his muse, Hilfiger was able to put pure positive vibes on the runway; it is what the media does with his product that we should challenge. It is incredible how many people don’t realize their creative capabilities because they base their decisions on the standards of others. Make like a Jamaican: Walk tall even when they think you’re small. If there’s one thing I’d have to ask you though Tommy, where was my invite?
Here are the Top 5 looks I’m ready to wear:
Zuri Lyric Marley is a New York-based, Jamaican born musician, performance artist and DJ. A student of Experimental Theatre and Recorded Music at New York University, Marley carries on the artful legacy of father Ziggy Marley and grandfather Bob Marley.