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Monday, April 10, 2006

Jamaica's style goddesses

Novia McDonald-Whyte Contributing editor

These are the women who have styled, dressed and buffed us for over a decade. Let's call them the influencers, as well as our own legends, shall we? For surely it is upon their backs, from their inspiration, that we have built a nation of women known for being absolutely fabulous on every possible occasion, even when, yes (let's 'fess up now, ladies) we are going to the bathroom.

The list of who to include was a predictable challenge. Names like Michelle Haynes, Jamaica's premier stylist. Haynes styled the country's very first video shoot. Remember Chaka Demus and Pliers? Haynes took the bold step (when crêpe de Chine, silk and linen were de rigueur to open women to the world of sportswear.

1. Lucille Hopkins, 2. Pat Wright, 3. Yvonne Anderson, 4. Ruth Hussey, 5. Pamela Hopkins, 6. Carol Reid, 7. Elaine Ellington 8. Sophia Max Brown, 9. Carol Pessoa, 10. Elaine Dreyer, 11. Carmen Brown, 12. Melody Aarons 13. Angela Neita 14. Marva Bloomfield 15. Patricia Samuels, 16. Norma Soas 17. Elaine Witter (Layne), 18. Andrea Mckenzie Ricketts 19. Michelle Haynes 20. Bridget Brown 21. Jean Anderson Wright.

"I was inspired by the movie Flashdance as well as Madonna." she says. "I took jersey and expanded the t-shirt into other separates like skirts, trousers and jackets."

Jean Anderson Wright and Patricia Samuels of Signatures boutique immediately came to mind, too, as did Angela Neita of Angela's boutique, and Norma and Sadie Soas.
Signatures, in its 22 years of existence, can lay claim to having dressed Jamaica's entire social roster. Elaine Ellington, the queen of lace, introduced the wearing of Battenburg lace to social events in Jamaica 20 years ago.

"I started with white and beige," she shares, "and believe me, it took Jamaica by storm. My first customer was Molly Brown." Fact is, Ellington today continues to create a stir with her lace creations.
Pat Wright, or PJ as she was called by her adoring customers or rather fans, influenced our hair, clothes (remember her bandana and linen shifts?).

There was television, too, the Diana Wright Show and everything else to boot. Wright's influence is immeasurable, having literally moved us from the Afro to every style and hair colour bottled or otherwise, in a career that spans in excess of three decades.

From left: Marva Bloomfield, Pat Wright and Angela Neita

Ruth Hussey of Exquisite Boutique opened her first business place in a garage, having completed studies at the venerable Fashion Institute of Technology, way back in 1967, making her perhaps one of the region's first qualified designers.

When daughter Michelle completed her fashion studies in Ireland and returned home, the business changed to Eurowear in 1987. Today, it is the Escada label for which both Ruth and Michelle are known. Ruth Hussey is, by the way, the designer responsible for the wedding dress and scarf worn by Beverly Anderson Manley when she married then Prime Minister Michael Manley.

Carol Reid, who made braids beautiful, started her business in 1975 in the front room of her parents' home. The business would then move to Central Plaza in Half-Way-Tree. Black Image, as the salon was called, was the only hair salon in Jamaica that did not use chemicals. That was just the beginning.

The triumvirate: from left Pat Wright, Marva Bloomfield and Yvonne Anderson with Melody Aarons

Reid returned from the US with a new concept for natural hair called 'Dream Braids'.
Carmen Brown of Karmen's Korner put the 'wow' in dressing long before any In Style magazine stylist even 'got it'.

Elaine Witter of Layne's Boutique, who understood the intensity, sass and true worth of colour, cut and style long before Roberto Cavalli, returned to Jamaica from the United States and fought hard to get Jamaican women to wear clothes that were made in Jamaica by Jamaican designers.

Witter was also the designer of choice for the Caribbean's first supermodels: Tobi Phillips, Nancy Martin, Karen and Cecile Neita, Christene King, Joan McDonald and Bernadette McKinley. Witter was also, for many years, the main designer of the much-acclaimed annual AJ Brown Fashion Follies. "They thought my clothes were foreign," (the ultimate compliment by the way) shares Witter.

If Layne's boutique was the home of the super model and the style set, then there was definitely the need for a boutique for the ample woman. Enter Smart Woman. Proprietors Lucille and Pam Hopkins have been in the business of styling and interpreting Caribbean form, and for 20 years boldly pronounced that women are not all size 4 but share the common goal of every other woman.that of wanting to look and feel fabulous.

Elima Hall, God rest her soul, perhaps the region's premier aesthetician, was, for many a decade, the voice that stressed the importance of skin care, and let's not forget those hands forcing us to relax and unwind in a spa setting. It's good to know that her daughter Marie Simone has taken up the charge and is moving the business seamlessly forward.

It's hard not to smile as we hark back to those early days of style: Dynasty- and Dallas-style shoulder pads, gold buttons, colour pink, white, green, blue and black pumps were the rave colours of shoes available at the very fashionable Lee's New Kingston. Frances Keane and Flossie Thomas were our very own Vera Wangs.

Ann Martin got us into make-up created especially for people of colour, prior to this we made do with Max Factor and blushes that were not quite about Iman's rainbow population. And then there was the indomitable hair triumvirate - Marva Bloomfield, Pat Wright and Yvonne Anderson. Hair was the news, and trust me, these ladies were the news, sports and weather.

"I remember calling La Claire's," shares Pat Wright (or PJ as her salon was called) "and hearing that Yvonne was calling #66 (this was, by the way, before 12 noon).I'd ask my ladies what was happening. And then there was Marva at Hair Power who I'd go to for a trim."

"Those were the fun days," chuckles Norma Soas, whose work has had wide international exposure. Soas received prime-time publicity on the BBC-TV fashion feature The Clothes Show. In addition to the retail giant Nordstrom, her collections have been carried by New York-based catalogue company Lew Magram, and by Costa, a catalogue out of California.

Boutiques in places like Anchorage, the cruise ship capital of Alaska, Japan, Montreal and Bermuda have carried her designs. Soas who spends a lot of time on the style lecture circuit with consultant Merrick Needham who boasts: "I've been to all of these ladies at one time or the other."

Jennifer Samuda's Red Hills Road home and, later, her first salon became the country's unofficial skin capital, while Frances Keane dressed every bride, including the country's first female prime minister, Portia Lucretia Simpson Miller. And yes, there were the beauty queens too.

Melody Aarons of Chic Lines became an expert in the weave and forced the triumvirate to take note. Aarons, by the way, did Portia Simpson Miller's hair on her wedding day and is in fact the lady who brought the sister locks to Jamaica. "I shared my discovery with Cheryl Champagnie, a fellow Edna Manley Arts School graduate," she explains.

Aarons was not the only parvenu - both Sophia Max Brown of MAXBROWN UNLIMITED, in business for 21 years, and Carol Pessoa of Go West, who started in October 1994. The 'young uns' carved out their own niche and have survived almost two decades, each proving without a doubt that there's always room for competition. Their call today is for fellowship and for the stores (all of them) to open later.

"I sometimes wonder who we are catering to," shares Pessoa. "If one store opens late it becomes a security concern.We all need to be opened and get people shopping in Jamaica instead of overseas."

And along came the tall, elegant Bridget with her leather sandals. "It was trial and error until I got it right," she shares. We're picky women, but this woman looked at our fashion obsessions and now wraps leather around the feet of thousands.

Elaine Dreyer of Fashionwhirl is perhaps best known for her designs for two Miss Jamaica World queens - Sandra Cunningham and Cathi Levy. "I started business with five machines in 1975," she explains. That was then. Today Dreyer, who in 1997 participated in Paris at the Pret a Porter shows and secured a contract with the Key West Cargo Family, is still an active player in the fashion industry.

*Regrettably Frances Keane and Jennifer Samuda were both off the island for this memorable fashion and beauty shoot. Elima Hall, who opened our eyes to the world of spas, died suddenly last month.

Posted by jebratt :: Monday, April 10, 2006 :: 0 comments

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