Brooklyn designer weaves her Caribbean roots in crochet
Brooklyn designer weaving her Caribbean roots in crochet
Layered and multifaceted, designer and founder of Diotima, Rachel Scott imbues her collection with her Caribbean heritage, dance hall culture and refined Italian fabrics.
Designer Rachel Scott’s approach to fashion is both personal and theoretical, historical and prospective. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Scott now lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her photographer husband. “I’ve been working 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 at 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. “Over the past few years, I have continued to study philosophy recreationally,” Scott says casually. “Diotima is fascinating because it was never clear if 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 in a transhistoric way – with history and the future”. After securing a place at the Istituto Marangoni in Milan, she left to study fashion design and got a job at Costume National which she describes as “a wonderful experience, a great education”. She learned the rigor of a great Italian fashion house. “There was such respect for the craft,” she recalls. Today, she is vice president of design for Rachel Comey, where she has worked since 2015.
The pandemic allowed a moment of reflection on the functioning of the fashion world. “Large orders were canceled and this had an impact on the factories and their employees. One way or another, the blame always falls on the most vulnerable person, pushing the issues from the stores to the designers, to the manufacturers, to the person doing the work at the end of the line. I wanted to change my relationship at work.
Diotima: “You can still spot the Caribbean anywhere because we are so proud of it”.
During the pandemic, she made two trips to her home in the Blue Mountains in Jamaica and, during her stay, sought the expertise of two local crochet manufacturers. “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 to crochet pieces. The rest of Diotima’s collection was made from very limited dead tissue in the United States. ‘ Now she works with 12 women in Kingston, including younger women who are learning the trade. What is not made in Jamaica, Scott produces in New York. “I take a lot of inspiration from New York. Not just the manufacturing in the garment district, which is very lively, but also a lot of relationships and collaborations, creating new connections, ”she says.
Scott’s roots are inextricably woven into his designs. Powerful and seductive, dancehall culture is ingrained in her clothes. “The explosive dance and music mean so many possibilities for liberation,” she says. “Carlene Smith was a big influence on me as a teenager,” she says of the Jamaican dance hall icon. “And the musicians of this postcolonial Caribbean nation. It was a fascinating time of gender dynamics. Carlene was not trying to operate in a man’s world as a man, but to own it as herself.
There are a few references to literal dancehall in the collection, such as lacy jumpsuits, short ‘batty rider’ shorts, 90s style masculine oversized boxy jackets and shirts. A macrame t-shirt adorned with Swarovski crystals , a marina string waistcoat lined with bias cut silk and a pleated skirt inspired by her Jesuit school uniform are raised versions of the original incarnations. Biographical scenes of domesticity emerge – she is “obsessed with chintzes”; there is a starched placemat top; and a skirt that borrows from a table runner and is unexpectedly slit high on the thigh.
Scott explored the Caribbean Junkanoo carnival tradition for his Winter ’22 collection. “Historically, this was on Boxing Day, when slaves were given a day off from their owners and the men dressed up as women, playing characters such as the plantation owner’s wife. I started to deconstruct this moment and play with tropes of what a woman should be, ”she says. “Reggae, ska and dancehall music was influenced by these early carnivals. “
The designer pays great attention to her fabrics. Diotima’s luxurious Italian tweed suit is treated with pigment print to create an interesting texture. A neutral, earthy palette is punctuated with red, white and pink colors from Junkanoo’s carnival.
“The BLM movement in the United States has been so important in highlighting which voices are heard and which 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 it’s not, ”she said. “I always knew that I wanted to try and find a way to help the brain drain in the Caribbean – the youth and energy that leave to find work elsewhere,” she says of the industry that ‘she built in Jamaica. “You can still spot the Caribbean anywhere because we’re so proud of it.” §