Colorful paintings in beautiful ornate frames served as backdrop to well-dressed members of D.C.’s high society, dignitaries, and celebrities who sipped rum sour cocktails created by renowned chef José Andres of Minibar. Models glided down the elaborate staircase and made their way through the lavish ballroom.
The event, “Diplomacy by Design,” was hosted by the Embassy of Haiti in partnership with D.C. Fashion Week. The runway show featured collections of four renowned designers of Haitian descent: Victor Glemaud, Prajjé Oscar Jean-Baptiste, Kerby Jean-Raymond, and Azède Jean-Pierre.
This event was of special importance to Haiti’s Ambassador to Washington, the Honorable Paul Altidor who, since reports of U.S. President Donald Trump’s disparaging comments about Haitian immigrants, has been determined to show the side of Haiti that the media seldom covers.
Victor Glemaud, a recent CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalists, opened the show. Glemaud was born in Haiti and moved to the U.S. at age 3, eventually working in New York and Paris for Versace, Marc Jacobs, Helmut Lang, Paco Rabanne and Tommy Hilfiger, before starting his own label. Always in love with fashion, he began exploring the possibilities of knitwear by cutting up, and re-assembling, some of his father’s old sweaters. Glemaud’s latest collection of bold, colorful, and graphic knits shows an obvious nod to the vibrant colors of his homeland.
Independent womenswear designer Azède Jean-Pierre, known for dressing such amazing women as former First Lady Michelle Obama and Solange Knowles, did not present a runway show, displayed a few pieces for guests to view. Native to Pestel, Haiti, and raised in Atlanta, Jean-Pierre came to the U.S. as a refugee, and now a first-generation American. After graduating from Savannah College of Art and Design, Jean-Pierre headed to New York, where she sharpened her skills as an intern at Ohne Titel and Ralph Rucci, before eventually launched her own label in 2012. Last year, Jean-Pierre made her Paris Fashion Week debut with her Spring 2017 collection, which was an ode to her Caribbean culture.
Pyer Moss designer Kerby Jean-Raymond has never shied away from mixing activism with fashion. His debut at New York Fashion Week earned him death threats when he screened a 15-minute video about police brutality. This season, Jean-Raymond drew inspiration from his father, who migrated to New York from Haiti, and raised his son alone after his wife died. The Brooklyn-born designer, who recently collaborated with Reebok, created custom pieces that were on display at the Embassy that evening. Jean-Raymond is a young designer successfully building a fashion brand on his own terms, and this, is perhaps, his most powerful message thus far.
The clear stand-out of the night was, New York-based womenswear designer Prajjé Oscar Jean-Baptiste. As traditional Haitian music filled the air, models entered in floor-length gowns adorned with embroidery and beading done by hand in Haiti. The designer, known as a leading exemplar of ethnic-inspired fashion design, is proud of his work with Haitian women artisans. His latest collection Erzulie, named and inspired by the Voudou goddess of love and beauty, is comprised of ready-to-wear, formal wear, and couture pieces, showcasing the designer’s original print “Maîtresse.” When asked what made him take on this usually taboo subject Jean-Baptiste replied, “The Erzulie collection is not so much about Voudou, but about a culture that has been rejected, discredited, and dismissed. I wanted to remind people of who (Haitians) are.”
The event hosted by Miss Black America, Brittany Lewis, was attended by an array of special invited guests Haitian-American NFL star player Pierre Garcon, two-time former welterweight world champion Andre Berto, Judge Sibby Elias the first Haitian-American appointed to municipal court in New Jersey, Haitian journalist and filmmaker Valery Numa and former D.C. First Lady Michelle Cross-Fenty.
It was an evening full of elegance and beauty, promoting the art, fashion and culture of Haiti. On this night, Ambassador Altidor’s mission to change the narrative on Haiti was accomplished, for the only thing spectators could talk about was the immense and diverse talent of its people.
Pictured to the right: designer Prajjé Oscar Jean-Baptiste with his model; below: Haitian NFL player Pierre Garcon; bottom right: Ambassador Paul Altidor addresses the press.