How One New York Designer Is Putting Jamaican Crochet on the Map

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About 14 years ago, designer Rachel Scott saw an article in her local Jamaican paper about a group of women on the north coast of the island who had a knitting circle, of sorts. They would meet up to crochet, embroider, and share ideas. The story struck a chord with Scott, who is Jamaica-born and has a lifelong interest in crafts and crochet. And so on her next trip home to the Caribbean from Italy, where she was living at the time, Scott made it her mission to find that group. “I drove for hours asking, ‘Do you know miss blah blah blah from this part of Saint Mary?’” says Scott, who is now based in New York, on Zoom. “I eventually found them, and met with one lady who had been practicing this form of embroidery where they pull the threads and embroidery around it. It’s something they’d been doing for centuries. She learned from her mother; her mother learned from her grandmother. There was this intergenerational knowledge being passed down. I thought that was incredible and always wanted to find a way to work with them.”

A decade and a half later, she is. Scott’s new brand, Diotima, launching today, represents a beautiful collaboration between the designer and this circle of talented artisans. Working with the original group from the newspaper article years ago, as well as several independent artists in Kingston, Jamaica, and another group from the north coast, Scott offers an elevated take on crochet.

Joshua Kolbo
Joshua Kolbo

Scott, who grew up in Kingston and is currently the vice president of design at Rachel Comey, always knew she wanted to incorporate her heritage into her design. Throughout 2020, she had a bit of a break from the daily grind of the New York fashion scene and began to think more seriously about what she wanted to create on her own. “Everything happening last year in America gave me more strength in thinking that there was time and space for every voice to participate,” she says. “I waited a long time. It was a moment I needed to speak.”

Her collection is inspired in equal measure by her upbringing in a Jesuit school in Kingston and the dancehall scene in Jamaica of the ’80s and ’90s. One of the key pieces is her uniform skirt, a tea-length, khaki, pleated garment remixed with slits up the side. “Many of the schools are Catholic, so there’s this decorum of how you should dress,” Scott says. “I was playing with that and trying to subvert this idea of being proper.” Dancehall signatures informed her suits. “It’s so interesting the way they play with tailoring and the women play with being powerful but also sexy,” she says.

The real star of the summer 2021 collection, though, is the crochet, the standout piece being what Scott calls the web top. The front looks like a spider’s web, rendered in white and black yarn, with a circular pattern that reaches up the neck, almost giving the impression of a prim, high collar. That illusion of propriety, however, is given an unexpected twist thanks to the harness back; it’s as intricate as it is sexy. There’s also a white miniskirt with crochet tumbling down one leg and across the hem, a mixed-media fashion statement.

ANDRE NOBLE

In many ways, crochet is the ultimate handicraft, as it can’t be replicated by a machine. It’s one of the reasons why Scott views the artisans who make her crochet almost like codesigners. “For the first collection I was coming up with ideas for some of the pieces. I realized you can’t approach this as putting ideas on what you think they can and should do,” she says. “You need to be more open to what they’re comfortable with and what they think is interesting. It’s a lot of labor. For the second collection I’m only doing things they like to do and finding ways to make that work.”

She’s learned that they prefer not to use black yarn, as it’s harder to work with at night and many of them work other jobs during the day (one of the groups is a collective of farmers-craftspeople). They also love the web top, as it’s something they make often and there’s a local appetite for.

Joshua Kolbo
Joshua Kolbo

It’s important to Scott that this centuries-old craft continue, so she’s particularly excited when young people are involved with her production. Knitwear has experienced something of a renaissance this year, particularly in playful, Instagram-ready iterations—an FIT student who took up crochet as a COVID-era hobby soon started making designs worn by Ella Emhoff and Kaia Gerber, and checkered knits were one of the biggest spring trends.

Diotima is a little different. Its crochet feels more like an heirloom, a little precious and delicate. But that doesn’t mean the clothes lack sex appeal. When Scott was last in Kingston, she met up with some of the women who work with her to hear more about what they liked to make. “One of the ladies had this crazy, open-weave bra top, very open basket weave. I didn’t know what it was, and one of the other ladies in her 70s put it on for me to show me how it worked,” says Scott with a smile. “These ladies are truly amazing.”