His charisma and years of European experience behind the lens, his flavourful injection of fun, finesse and fiery energy, his easygoing nature but no-nonsense work ethic...these are intrinsic qualities of former Italian Vogue and world acclaimed photographer, Calvin French.
It's no consequence that these qualities constitute the essential ingredients for a thriving Caribbean fashion industry. The fact the French delivers these elements and more to the plate is certainly a blessing.
A stalwart in Trinidad and Tobago fashion, the veteran lensman has done the unthinkable for the local fashion industry and the Caribbean style landscape. Models have been lucky to have worked under his talented wing and have delivered the most beautiful portrayals of beautiful clothing and style, in return. Fashion designers have benefited from his insurmountable and sophisticated experience and the audience of T&T has been entertained and enlightened by his artistic and patriotic display of Caribbean creativity.
This year however, the man who has given close to his all in the fashion industry wants to give a little more. His new book, Fashion Me Caribbean promises to ignite a new breed of thinking in fashion and open the eyes of designers and other agents in the industry to what fashion really is and how the Caribbean can be a major player in the International arena.
"With Fashion Me Caribbean, I want to stir up excitement as far as fashion is concerned. I want to showcase the fun side of fashion and create unity, unity in terms of all agents sharing the real and true meaning of fashion. Photography for me is a lifestyle, what you wear and how you wear it. Fashion photography is my forte and by living in Milan and Paris and working with world designers, I believe that I understand the underpinnings of fashion," French declares.
He is an advocate for individuality, uniqueness and originality and he claims that a lot of local creative juices are stagnated by the "copycat" mentality of Caribbean designers. "I have dined with the best of International fashion icons. Armani, Versace you name it but all in all my love for my country supersedes all fascinations with what exists on the outside. That is why I condemn the Caribbean's myopic view of fashion. We are blessed with a colourful culture — our music, our vibe, our Carnival, our fun and easygoing nature — we should capitalise on these energies and apply them to our fashion. We shouldn't copycat the couture of Paris and Europe. This approach will never be competitive and it will never place us on the map. Instead of this dead end path we should master what defines us as a people,"he stressed.
Continuing in the same vein, French said,"We should do the ready-to-go designs; express ourselves through our designs through light relaxed fabrics. The linens...beautiful lively colours... This approach will be cutting edge for our industry, if only our local and regional fashion stakeholders will listen and understand that our fashion should be fun and not straight-jacketed." According the French, "The world wants our intrinsic style and not the imitations of others! Sad to say but very few of our fashion designers, like Peter Elias, use the right philosophy" the former owner of esteemed Italian Modelling Agency, Ugly People argues.
In Fashion Me Caribbean he hopes to erase the misleading mindset and give T&T and the world a teasing taste of what epitomises the Caribbean people, what better way to relay this message than through his astounding fashion photography.
"A jeans, shirt and shoes are fashion, a trendy swimsuit on a beach...fashion doesn't have to be all decked off like a Christmas tree," French suggests. His first book, On the Avenue was indeed the entree for his escapade, the path his second book will take. Scenic and high fashion photos taking one through pages and chapters of Trinbagonian lifestyles adorned the pages of On the Avenue and now with Fashion Me Caribbean he takes his audience to the next level.
"I have photographed so many Caribbean people and I have fallen in love with our beautiful Caribbean people. The seductive silhouettes of Jamaican women, their commanding, sleek and beautiful nature, the well chiselled bone structure of Trinidadian men, we have great talent on the islands. A very talented young upstart in the field of creative directing is Rondell Paul. He did the creative direction for my first book and now for Fashion Me Caribbean. His work is mind-blowing and he has high hopes of making it to Vogue and these elite publications and I am quite sure that with his determination he will make it very soon! He is not the only one, we have a landmine of talent and opportunity through the University of Trinidad and Tobago Fashion Design programme. Now is the time for Corporate T&T, the Government and resident designers to join forces and move the Industry forward!" the Claxton Bay born fashion icon says.
Fashion Me Caribbean will be released very soon and most definitely will cause a stir not only in the Caribbean but everywhere. As we wait in hungry anticipation for French's next contribution to the fashion industry, he has this concluding advice to share - "If we don't take the gems we have and nurture and develop them then we will lose them eventually and others will claim them as their own...just look at what happened with the steelpan!"