Let's keep it real -- for those who've spent limited time in the Caribbean, when you hear of Kingston, Jamaica -- images of a guns blazing, poverty stricken shanty town-often referenced by the great Bob Marley comes to mind. While Kingston may not rank amongst the highest tropical safe havens, it should by no means be compared to other war torn nations. Like any standard urban metropolis -- Detroit, the Bronx, parts of South Central -- lest you wander into unknown territories at night -- alone -- seeking to meet or be transformed into that freak that comes out at night.
Prior to my departure, naturally -- my worry wart mother (love her immensely) demanded my full air, hotel and transportation itinerary and call sheet, along with a pinky swear that I'd make the traditional rounds of phone check in:
- Upon arriving at LAX
- My arrival at the gate at LAX
- Prior to takeoff from LAX-(sheesh- still not even out of the city!)
- Upon arrival in Miami for transfer
- Arrival at the gate of transfer
- Upon touchdown in Kingston (KGN)
- Upon my KGN airport transfer
- God forbid if I didn't touch bases with her once I arrived at my hotel?! She would have enlisted the riot squad to promptly escort me back to the US.
Exaggeration? No. Dramatic, Yes! Despite the fact that I'm a fully educated, street-smart woman in my thirties that's lived independently in New York since I was 17, in Florence, Italy for a year, backpacked through Europe for a month, and have been bi-coastal, racking up frequent flyer miles for business for nearly a decade, there's not much you can tell the mother of an only child, but I digress...
Fully plump, after indulging in a complete Jamaican breakfast on the plane: ackee, saltfish, coco-bread and plantain chips (something I would definitely not recommend before doing on-camera work at a lingerie show), I landed in Kingston ready to "dutty wiiine" it up--or at least relax and make a quick stop at the delectable Manley Airport veggie juice bar for a healthy detox. (What other airport has a fresh and organic juice stand to greet you?) Instead I was slipped a note at baggage claim. My carry-on sized luggage, which was re-routed to the belly of the plane by an insistent ticket agent prior to take-off, was still partying in Miami and would be on another flight. Ummm, not the next flight-- just another flight. All of my Mid-City LA sass talk and neck rolling did nothing for the buttoned up Jamaican gem behind the baggage counter. She stared straight through me- as only a Caribbean woman can- quiet, stern and emotionally unattached...as if to say-she invented this attitude game and this was one standoff that I would definitely not win. Instant ego deflation.
As the host and EP of Ocean Style TV, a fashion and lifestyle program that profiles the essence of an upscale Caribbean, call time for the coverage of our sister print publication's first ever produced bikini and lingerie fashion show, "Dulce de Leche," was in the morning at 8. It was now about 10pm. Loovveelly! In my years of traveling back and forth to the Caribbean my luggage had never been lost. So, I had to charge it to the jet-set game and simply... let go.
With the warmth and serenity of the environment, it's extremely challenging to stay upset in the Caribbean. It is also increasingly ironic to produce and host a program that showcases the good life to be had without retaining a full scale wardrobe department and traveling glam squad-HA! Ahhh, the joys and realities of helping to develop a new show that make the fruits of labor even more satisfying. I'd already come to terms that me, my mic, humidity haunted hair, plantain filled pooch, and my skivvies would likely be reporting-alongside my cameraman -- live and direct from the show.
Joined by the rest of the team -- editorial, fashion production, and models that flew in from Canada, other regions in Jamaica and New York, it was time to walk the walk. Documenting the transformation of Kingston from a corporate capital to an island fashion capital was seamless. As the annual site of Caribbean Fashion Week, Kingston is not green to couture culture. There is a wealth of beauty and talent -- fierce hair and makeup artists, stylists, creatures that command the catwalk and top notch walking coaches that groom them. The sprouts of fashion industry movement in the Caribbean have grown from an ancestrally ingrained and inspired awareness into a well-studied discipline and lifestyle focus.
Trinidadian designer, Anya Ayoung-Chee, one of the show's profiled designers (currently of the Project Runway fame), discussed the impact of Kingston on Caribbean fashion. She summed up the growing allure of the region: "The Caribbean presents a whole range of women. A hybrid of many different races. In that everything-ness there's still a pride of being one part of one culture. As Caribbean women, we all have that."
Culturally infused design inspirations filled the "Dulce de Leche" show, oozing both sensuality and opulence. It was geared to attract the attention of a new Caribbean consumer that fuses both local and international designs to erect a dynamic swim and boudoir wardrobe that is both awesome and awe inspiring. Canadian stylist Marek M commented, "...maybe the recession has made people more creative, and say I'm just going to do what I want now..."
Witnessing the casting, fittings and designer evaluations, in preparation for the show, it was clear that "the good life" to be had was standing right before me -- shown in the tenacious spirits of action and hard working hands of all those involved.
Moments before showtime, I received a note from the front desk... my luggage had finally arrived! Within a blink, it was time to shine the lights and camera on Kingston -- a fashion savvy and culturally awesome powerhouse; nourished by struggle and survival.