Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Designer Island

We have launched our website finally!

We look forward to sharing with you stories of the makers of our beautiful twin island republic, Trinidad and Tobago and the neighboring Caribbean islands.

I have consistently been passionate about where I am from and even more so about becoming more aware of the creatively interesting things people are doing, writing and making from the Caribbean.

Designer island started as a school project while I was dabbling in a Communication degree at COSTAATT. While I never finished the program (due to disappointments in some aspects) the time spent was completely fruitful in tickling my interest to attempting to understand what the idea of the Caribbean Aesthetic is and this idea has been growing and coming to life on

My very good friend Ayanna, joined me in the last year to develop the website when she came along as an editor and it is our hope that Designer Island continues to grow and be collaborative.

I've had the pleasure of interviewing some really interesting people like photographer; Alex Smailes, designer and artist; Richard Mark Rawlins, designer; Marlon Darbeau an soon to be posted jeweler and maker; Jade Drakes who we interviewed over breakfast at her home.

Designer island is not just about creatives, but about expanding the idea of who we are as a Caribbean, West Indian people and showing how it expands from spending Sunday mornings on the beach to shopping at Organic Green Market's on Saturdays, attending Fashion shows, Art exhibits, dining and being jet setting industrial designers and jewelers and store owners. It's about how the folks who maybe that don't club on and island entertain themselves, lime, hangout and sip wine at our favourite wine bars, go hiking in the rainforest and then go to work on a Monday morning. It's abut our varying passions.

I hope you enjoy our offering and leave us comments and feedback.
Get in touch with us and welcome to designer island life.

Let us so you why we're so island :)

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Style Spirit Fashion Weekend 2012

Style Spirit Fashion Weekend, hosted by magazine and online movement Trinidad LookBook, was held from the 7th-9th December 2012 at The Warehouse, Champs Fleurs in Trinidad & Tobago. With the two-year absence of Trinidad and Tobago Fashion Week, Trinidad LookBook Magazine stepped in to fill the void. The weekend included presentations by designers, an accessories trunk show, seminars by notables in beauty and blogging, networking opportunities and after parties. We really liked the idea of a full-fledged fashion weekend that would not only showcase the designers’ work but also allow them to network with each other and others in the fashion industry both locally and internationally.

Designer Island decided to check out Style Spirit and purchased weekend passes that allowed us to attend both fashion shows, after parties and talk shops/chat rooms. The entire event was marketed principally through word of mouth and via social media - chiefly Facebook and Twitter. There’s a funny thing about social media. While we hear constantly that it is the cheapest and most effective way to reach a targeted audience, there’s always the risk of reaching no more than your own narrow circle of friends and their networks. The result can be the appearance of mass support but smaller numbers than expected at the actual event.

While we fully intended to make it to all the events, the hectic period proved to be a bit too much for our already busy schedules. While we missed the sessions done by Adam Cooper, Head of Strategy at AbovegroupOgilvy and Misa Hylton, US, stylist and fashion maven due to poorly chosen times (one at midday on a weekday and the other at 9:00am on a Saturday), we were thrilled to catch Trini born Patrice Grell-Yursik of, natural hair beauty blogger and ‘godmother of brown beauty blogging’.

Tanya and Ayanna of Designer Island with Patrice of Afrobella
Her session was held at Medulla Art Gallery and started at 3:00PM on Thursday afternoon, an inconvenient time that should perhaps be reconsidered for future events to allow more people to participate. Titled ‘The Beauty of Interaction’, Patrice talked about her journey to developing her award- winning blog, the challenges of trying to start Afrobella while holding down a day job at a Miami newspaper and building a brand that is so much linked to her own personality and struggles with beauty and body image. While there was a small turnout, due possibly to the challenge we mentioned above with social media marketing and the time selected, the intimate gathering allowed for many questions to be asked and stories to be shared. We particularly loved that nearby storeowners, event planners and designers participating in Style Spirit weekend were able to attend making the session one that allowed for valuable networking. Patrice of Afrobella was candid, honest and inspirational and shared tangible strategies for internationalizing your brand. Entrepreneurs that were able to make it were certainly better for having attended. This was a critical part of the fashion weekend and we really wished that the scheduling and advertising had been better thought out to ensure that more people were able to attend what we understand were all inspiring sessions.

The next day began with an all day Accessories Trunk Sale also held at Medulla Art Gallery. This was a well-organized event that featured a variety of local artisans and jewelers including CLASP by Sabrina Bolai, KokoKaribi Designs, Rachael Rochford Jewelry, Vyombo Designs, Sandalias Apparel and others. We picked up some really lovely pieces and are excited for the future of these local designers. The vibrant art market culture that has been developing the Trinidad & Tobago in recent years centered in Port of Spain has created a new market for local artisans that we’re interested in seeing develop further.

That evening was the first runway show! The Style Spirit team made an inspired choice by hosting the event out of Port of Spain at an industrial warehouse. The inconvenience of parking on the street and walking a bit to the event was offset by the presence of security guards who assisted with parking and gave helpful directions. The interior of the Warehouse featured high ceilings with steel beams, bare concrete walls and concrete flooring. The simple d├ęcor made the runway the central feature of the venue and made the fashion the full focus of the evening. High above the runway we could observe the bustle of the models getting makeup done and being prepared to head down to the runway. While this may not have been an intentional part of the design of the show, it made for an interesting feature. The wings were created with white blinds lit from behind that would allow the audience to see the silhouettes of the models before they actually hit the runway. Overall, the lighting choices could have been better in order to allow for a darkened venue with lighting focused on the runway to create a more dramatic effect. However, we loved the understated style of the venue that left the focus on the clothes and the interaction of the people that went there to support the designers. We loved that the space was local and gritty, and imperfect with no attempt to cover it’s imperfections with potted plants, ugly satin draping and balloons. We complement the team on its ability to preserve the integrity of the space and to create something real.

The first night featured designers Lisa See Tai, Pink Lemonade, The Art of Wear, Wadada Movement, The 1ndividual Aesthetic, Indieswim, Favala, J. Angelique and Chandra Maharaj Swimwear. There was a fairly good turnout on the first day with people seeming genuinely excited to see the new wave of Trinidad fashion designers. The show suffered a bit from the late start and the slow pace at which the models moved down the runway, with each model waiting almost until the former existed the stage before entering. While this allowed full focus to be on each garment, it affected the overall pace of the show. The high quality of some of the designers attempted to make up for these technical hiccups. Check out our iPhone photos of all the collections and let us know your favourites.  

Wadada Movement
Wadada Movement

One of our favourites for the night was the 1950’s inspired collection by the The Art of Wear which featured Mad Men era dress shapes in African print fabric. Her dresses featured great silhouettes for curvy figures with a modern twist on classic lines.
The Art of Wear
The Art of Wear

We also enjoyed The 1ndividual Aesthetics’s Collection of t-shirt designs with their fun, edgy styling and youthful presentation.

The 1ndividual Aesthetic

Chandra Maharaj’s swimwear was one of the more standout collections of the night owing to her impeccable styling and well-constructed swimwear.

Chandra Maharaj
Van der Vlught
By day 2 some of the technical hiccups were ironed out and the show ran much more smoothly. The designers - Van der Vlught, Fashion Dandy, Liilah, A-Lan Swimwear, 36 EDR, Rhion Romany, Loud by Afiya, Kimya Glasgow and Hak Gwai took it up a notch and the show opened with the beautiful evening wear collection by Van der Vlught whose elegant lines and beautiful fabrics contrasted sharply with the gritty, industrial surroundings.

There were outstanding pieces by 36EDR, Rhion and Loud by Afiya that showed definite promise that will develop with greater attention to construction. The other standout collection for the night was Hak Gwai by Lori Antoinette. Hak Gwai accomplished a rare feat – pieces that looked wearable and would work with a variety of body types but were also theatrical showstoppers on a runway, complemented by beautiful accessories. We loved Hak Gwai so much that Tanya Marie rocked a Hak Gwai original to a Christmas event. Check it out!

Loud by Afiya

36 EDR
36 EDR
Rhion Romany
Hak Gwai
Hak Gwai

Hak Gwai
Hak Gwai

Hak Gwai

One of the things that stood out for us was the incredible energy that pervaded both nights. You could see it on the faces of the models and the designers as they walked the runway to receive applause with their collections. You could see it on the faces the organizers at the end of each night. We spoke to one of the models after the event that shared our view. She said she had been modeling since she was 14 years old and had worked with many more established local designers but this show was special to her because of the obvious youthful energy and fresh exuberance that she found incredibly exciting. If this event can keep that energy, learn from its shortcomings and continue to support its designers, we think we can look forward to great things in the future.

Overall we think Style Spirit was an incredible learning experience for the team and for the designers who showed. More importantly, we applaud the courage it took to host such a large-scale event on a small budget with the weight of the expectation of the local fashion industry on their shoulders. Aside from the technical hiccups and the lost opportunity to have larger audiences at the chat rooms, we thought this was a good first run. Two things stood out for us: the talent of some of our new and upcoming local designers and the lack of more established local designers and industry professionals in attendance. Perhaps there were scheduling problems but it would have made a strong statement to have this new venture supported by the organizers of the original fashion week and to have young designers supported by more established ones.

Style Spirit is already hard at work on its second run to be held next year from May 31st to June 2nd 2013. We look forward to seeing the event grow and the designers develop their aesthetic and technical competence.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Photographer Alex Smailes Exhibits A Decade of Work

This is an exhibit I'm looking forward to.
In November 2011 I got to interview photographer Alex Smailes
about his ideas about the term 'The Caribbean Aesthetic'.
This November he is exhibiting in Trinidad and Tobago after a decade
of photographing the region along with a publication launch.

Be there for the launch next Thursday!

Thursday 22nd November 2012, 7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.


Thursday 6th December 2012, 7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.

37 Fitt Street, Woodbrook, Port of Spain

RSVP 740 7597 /


In 2002, after working extensively as a photojournalist in the Middle East, the South Pacific, South Asia, the Caucasus and the Balkans, Alex Smailes moved to Trinidad and Tobago. This exhibition celebrates the 10th anniversary of that move and what Smailes has observed and documented throughout the region since. Images from some of Alex's better-known series - from gangs in Port of Spain, to Aristide's last days in Haiti are on display here. Also present are some of the traditions and snatched, everyday moments that, while uniquely Caribbean, resonate with universal themes. This collection of images is characterised by Smailes' intense interest in understanding and capturing his adopted region, and also by his sensitive eye, which finds beauty not only where expected but also in the mundane or disturbing, all of which mix together to create a striking visual picture of a complex region.
Twice-nominated finalist for the Amnesty International Media Awards for coverage inside Trinidad’s jails in 2001 and for Haiti’s secret modern-day slave-trade for 'Colors' 2003 magazine
To continue testing the boundaries of creativity and imagination via innovative photography. A digital revolution is changing the Caribbean...let's capture that essence!
Company Overview
After a book deal with Macmillan and a move to Trinidad in 2002, Alex spent 2 years producing 'Trinidad & Tobago'; published in 2004 and depicting the culture and glory of the nation.

Utilizing an immaculate talent in visual communications, with over a decade of experience to his name, Alex has forged an identity, infamously known as ‘the fixer’. He has consistently tackled and succeeded on a vast array of multi-tiered, multi-partied and complex branding projects. He balances layers of creative genius and practical problem solving in the constant progression and evolution of the world...

In 1996, whilst studying for his Communications BA at Falmouth Art School in UK, Alex Smailes was hand-picked to join a small team of filmmakers, explorers and marine biologists for an documentary film expedition underneath the oil platforms of the Arabian Gulf.

From 1997 to 2002 he continued to work in areas of conflict throughout the world, and his work during that time has been recognised by

Amnesty International and Colours magazine.

Alex has worked for many of the World’s press including BBC, Geographical Magazine, Independent, Sunday Times, New York Times, Corbis and Reuters.

In 2004, he published Trinidad and Tobago (MacMillan). He became a director of Abovegroup in 2005, but has continued to cover Caribbean socio-political issues.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Caribbean Aesthetic. A Conversation with Marlon Darbeau

"I think its ok to make what you want to make, where you make it. When you do it and for whom you do it." - Marlon Darbeau, Designer and Creative Director of AbovegroupOgilvy.

"I've never really had to consider ' The Caribbean Aesthetic'"

"I guess it's because I've never lived anywhere else. I've travelled to a couple places. Never been there long enough to heavily consider how it affects how I do things."

"The internet has had a very profound affect on how we see ourselves. What we do, how we create things of beauty. On mediums utilised, how we use them and even what we make."

"But for me it's about having insight.
Insight into yourself and insight into the space around you.
I think what is important is looking."

"I think it's based on your experiences and where you've been, and that in itself is a changing thing."

"For me I just try to make things based on how I experience things, how I see things and that aesthetic is based on my own eye sight."

left: Dishout, kitchen utensils right: Peera, designed by Marlon Darbeau

'Jazz on The Beach', set design

Do you think Trinidad has a brand?

"Yes I think Trinidad and Tobago has a brand but what we have to ask ourselves is "is it a brand that we like?"

"Is it a brand of value?"

"That value has to do with our perceptions of patriotism and economic value.
We haven't yet reached to the point of understanding how to maximize our brand."

Marlon is a collaborator at the Alice Yard art-space initiative. He comes from a family tradition of making things in a workshop that was at home or very close to home. He has become very interested in how those traditions intersect with his practice as a graphic designer, and in using this convergence to formulate ways of making his work.