MILAN — Building on last September’s success of the We Are Made in Italy, or WAMI, showcase of fashion professionals of color, Milan Fashion Week kicks off Wednesday by spotlighting five familiar faces.
Organized by the Black Lives Matter in Italian Fashion collective jump-started in 2020 by designers Stella Jean and Edward Buchanan along with Afro Fashion Association’s president Michelle Francine Ngonmo, the digital showcase spotlights the same five female talents it featured last season. The goal is to offer greater visibility to them and other Black, Indigenous and designers of color in Italian fashion to raise their international profiles and celebrate their achievements.
To be sure, all five talents acknowledged how the display boosted their business one way or another, helping them earn recognition from the press and celebrities and even providing them with enough confidence to turn their fashion ventures into full-time jobs.
Backed by the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, which has acted as the launchpad for several international designers, the WAMI format is helping to push forward Italian fashion’s diversity, equity and inclusion plans.
Ahead of the unveiling of their fall collections via video livestreamed on Milan Fashion Week’s official digital platform, WWD caught up with the five designers amid fittings and model castings.
Brand: Romy Calzado
Designer: Romy Calzado
Background: A Cuban native with a penchant for textile design, Calzado landed a job in fashion after attending the Burgo Fashion Institute, where she holds the role of teacher for the Palermo school. She developed a passion for prints during her experience at Etro. She launched her brand to express her creativity, but admitted feeling more like an artist who can “navigate and express myself through different media, even outside fashion.”
Brand ethos: “I want to debunk the misconception that a tropical or Caribbean designer should always tap into florals and prints and more generally into a flamboyant aesthetic,” said Calzado, who is committed to spotlighting her native country and its culture in more nuanced ways.
Fall 2022: Titled “Cosmic Beauty,” the collection takes cues from futuristic atmospheres with strong and pointy shouldered frocks, crafted from graphene-enhanced jerseys developed by Directa Plus. They are sometimes peppered with leather inserts and knot and ribbon embellishments nodding to the artworks of Peruvian artist Jorge Eduardo Eielson, who described the knots he featured in his work as symbols of interconnection between fields such as art, nature and science. More everyday options include short dresses with poet sleeves.
Brand: Nyny Ryke
Designer: Nyny Ryke Goungou
Background: A Togo native, Goungou started sewing her first dresses as a young ballerina upcycling damaged stockings to create stage-worthy concoctions. After graduating from Milan’s NABA with a degree in fashion and textiles and completing her academic education at Istituto Secoli, she launched her brand in 2016 crafting made-to-measure items. It wasn’t until 2020 that she decided to turn her side job into her primary source of income.
Brand ethos: Enamored of her native country’s textile tradition, Goungou has made it her goal to work in tandem with Togo companies and artisans to exalt the Kentè handwoven fabric, which boasts multiple patterns all done in bright colors coupled with geometric shapes and gallant shipshape designs. Testament to her commitment, she has also patented the first stretch Kentè textile.
Fall 2022: Goungou described her fall offering as “ethnic nostalgia” in that it nods to ‘80s silhouettes: cue tulle dresses worn over leggings in the same fabric embellished with dangling macramé threads, which also appear on Kentè blazers and padded jackets. She was inspired by aerial views of city crossroads and their maze of streets and named her lineup Knot.
Brand: Zineb Hazim
Designer: Zineb Hazim
Background: Moroccan-born Hazim embodies a Muslim woman committed to fight stereotypes. She started wearing her hijab as a teenager and claimed it as much a style choice as a cultural statement. Her journey into the fashion world came unexpectedly when after climbing the ladder of an American company’s subsidiary in Italy and becoming its top manager, she decided to quit and pursue her dream to launch a namesake fashion brand, which happened last year after graduating from the Burgo Fashion Institute.
Brand ethos: Drawing from the style lexicon of her native country and Arab traditional dressing, Hazim said she wants to “offer Muslim women a point of view on fashion they hardly find.” Since her seminal collection, she’s banked on traditional tropes of Islamic fashion and aesthetics, giving them unexpected spins.
Fall 2022: Called “Abaya Street Couture,” Hazim’s fall collection is inspired by Arab princesses traveling internationally. The designer said she was triggered by prominent personalities from Arab countries she has seen coming to Milan for leisure and business. Aiming to offer them clothing that reflects their culture but is imbued with more of a fashion sensibility, she elaborated a range of abaya tunics, updated via unusual fabrics such as tweed, denim, cotton jersey and with added sequins and other embellishments.
Brand: Judith Saint Jermain
Designer: Judith Borsetto
Background: A creative of Haitian descent based in Italy, Borsetto studied at Treviso’s IUAV and soon thereafter opened her style consultancy JBTF, while concurrently turning her creativity to a range of women’s accessories, which made her think about developing a namesake line. For it she chose to use her original surname Saint Jermain, a testament to her bond with her country of origin. Since participating in “The Fab Five Bridge Builders” showcase in September, she admitted her visibility has risen and she has received praise from Italian and international celebrities.
Brand ethos: An accessories designer who specializes in footwear, Borsetto typically injects bold and flamboyant details into her sculptural shoes, which she is adapting for handbags and ready-to-wear pieces, the latter a small capsule collection of three knit dresses.
Fall 2022: For fall, Borsetto worked her signature aesthetics of ruffled and scalloped hems, sculptural shapes and Pop-tinged colors into a three-pronged collection including trapeze-heeled shoes crafted from supple leather and pony hair or stocking boots matching the three knitwear frocks she introduced as part of her offering. The latter are sensual styles with side slits and deep V-necks bearing jacquard monogrammed patterns. She went minimalist for handbags with asymmetric handles and V-shaped indentations on the bottom.
Brand: Curious Grid
Designer: Sheetal Shah
Background: A designer who started her fashion training in India’s western city of Ahmadabad, Shah moved to London to attend Central Saint Martins, where she graduated with a BA in textile design. She was offered her first internship in Italy, where she expanded her textile design and sartorial skills first in the silk district of Como and then in Naples. She launched her brand in 2020 during lockdown.
Brand ethos: Shah’s approach to fashion blends craftsmanship — drawn from her native country and from the multiple experiences she’s had in the industry — and cultural identity, the latter a celebration of her Indian roots. “I’m merging my Indian roots and identity with my experiences living abroad. Each country I stayed in influenced me one way or another,” she said. Fascinated by non-gendered workwear pieces, she delivers unisex styles that are often drawn from the male wardrobe.
Fall 2022: Shah’s fall collection is heavy on denim creations inspired by the carefree and antiestablishment ethos of the ’70s, with key styles, including bell-bottom pants, vests and cropped shirts, dyed according to sustainable techniques by using turmeric and madder dyes, or Officina+39’s Recycrom dye, which is created from the transformation of scraps and used clothing into colored powder. Committed to paying homage to her native country, she embedded India’s mattress fluffers’ technique into quilted workwear jackets.