Brooklyn designer weaving her Caribbean roots into crochet

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The Brooklyn designer weaves her Caribbean roots into crochet

Layered and multi-faceted, designer and founder of Diotima, Rachel Scott infuses her collection with her Caribbean heritage, dance hall culture and fine Italian fabrics.

Designer Rachel Scott’s approach to fashion is both personal and theoretical, historical and forward-looking. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Scott now lives in Brooklyn, New York with her photographer husband. “I’ve been in the fashion industry for 15 years, but it’s always been a goal,” she says of Diotima, the line she launched from the studio she set up in her home during the pandemic.

Scott left Jamaica 20 years ago to study French art and philosophy at Colgate University in New York. The label takes its name from the ancient Greek priestess and philosopher Diotima of Mantinea. “For the past few years, I’ve continued to study philosophy recreationally,” Scott casually says. “Diotima is fascinating because it was never clear whether she was real or mythical,” she says, referring to Plato’s scale of love. “When I design, I try to approach it with the idea of ​​working trans-historically – with history and the future.” After landing a place at Istituto Marangoni in Milan, she deviated to study fashion design, landing a job at Costume National which she describes as “a wonderful experience, a great education”. She learns the rigor of a great Italian fashion house. “There was such a reverence for craftsmanship,” she recalls. Today, she is vice president of design for Rachel Comey, where she has worked since 2015.

The pandemic has allowed a moment of reflection on how the fashion world works. “Large orders have been canceled and this has had an impact on factories and their employees. One way or another, the blame always ends up on the most vulnerable person, pushing the problems from the stores to the designers, to the manufacturers, to the person doing the job at the end of the chain. I wanted to change my relationship to work.

Diotima: “You can always spot Caribbean anywhere because we’re so proud of it.”

During the pandemic, she made two trips to her home in the Blue Mountains in Jamaica and, while there, sought out the expertise of two local crochet makers. “When the borders closed during the pandemic, they lost all of their tourist trade. I thought, ‘What can I do?’ So I started talking to them on WhatsApp from New York about making crochet pieces. The rest of Diotima’s collection was made from very limited deadstock fabrics in the United States. She now works with 12 women in Kingston, including some young women who are learning the trade. What isn’t made in Jamaica, Scott produces in New York. “I get a lot of inspiration from New York. Not just the manufacturing in the garment district, which is very much alive, but also the relationships and the collaborations, the building of new relationships,” she says.

Scott’s roots are inextricably linked to his designs. Powerful and seductive, dancehall culture is embedded in her clothes. “Explosive dance and music mean so many possibilities for release,” she says. “Carlene Smith was very influential to me when I was a teenager,” she says of the Jamaican dance hall icon. “And the female musicians of this postcolonial Caribbean nation. It was such a fascinating time of gender dynamics. Carlene wasn’t trying to operate in a man’s world as a man, but to own it as herself.

There are literal references to dancehall throughout the collection, such as lace jumpsuits, cropped “batty rider” shorts, 90s-style oversized boxy masculine jackets and shirts. A macramé t-shirt embellished with Swarovski crystals, a navy string waistcoat lined with bias-cut silk and a pleated skirt inspired by her Jesuit school uniform are upgraded versions of the original incarnations. Biographical scenes of domesticity arise – she is “obsessed with chintzes”; there is a starched doily top; and a skirt that borrows from a table runner and is unexpectedly slit high on the thigh.

the model wears a Diotima dress with crochet details

Scott explored the Caribbean tradition of the Junkanoo carnival for his Pre-Spring 22 collection. characters such as the plantation owner’s wife. I started to deconstruct that moment and play with the tropes of what a woman should be,” she says. “Reggae, ska and dancehall music were influenced by these early carnivals.”

The designer pays great attention to her fabrics. Diotima’s luxurious Italian tweed suit is treated with a pigmented print to create an interesting texture. A neutral, earthy palette is punctuated with Junkanoo Carnival red, white and pink colors.

“The BLM movement in the United States has been so important in highlighting the voices that are being heard and those that are not. As a woman of color, I felt like if there was someone working as a black or Caribbean designer, there was no room for another voice. But now I know that’s not the case,” she says. “I always knew I wanted to try to find a way not to contribute to the Caribbean brain drain – the youth and energy leaving to find work elsewhere,” she says of the industry. that it builds in Jamaica. “You can always spot the Caribbean anywhere because we’re so proud of it.” §

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