When Rachel Scott left her hometown of Kingston, Jamaica to pursue her college education and an internship at Vogue, she made a promise to a family friend who helped her land the role with the prestigious publication. “He was like ‘You can’t just leave, you can’t just take it all. You have to come back and contribute at some point,’” the designer recalls. “That always stuck with me.” After 15 years in the industry, Scott says her new fashion line, Diotima, is the long-awaited result of her desire to give back to where she came from.
Launched in May 2020, Diotima is a women’s ready-to-wear label that blends inspiration from all facets of Scott’s life and career. This includes her time studying French and art at Colgate University in upstate New York, followed by a stint at Istituto Marangoni in Milan. “I took a little bit of a circuitous path to this career,” she says. After graduating, Scott worked between both the U.S. and Europe for brands such as Costume National and J.Mendel where she not only gained experience but closely honed in on the importance of construction and quality. She credits this time for informing the “involved and respectful approach to working with materials and constructing pieces” that you can still see today in her current role as vice president of design at Rachel Comey, where she’s worked for some seven years. “I took this approach to [focus on] craft, construction, and materials, and mixed that with something a little bit more accessible price-wise, but also wearable.”
Scott had the beginning ideas for Diotima well before 2020, but she felt unsure about pursuing it. “I had this idea in my mind that if someone speaks about the Jamaican or Caribbean style, experience, or point of view, then that’s it. That one slot has been taken up,” she says of her past state of mind. “That held me back for a long time.” When the world halted over the last year and a half, Scott had a moment to step back from her daily grind, realize the value of her unique perspective, and her brand took shape as other unexpected doors opened.
“When all the borders were closing in Jamaica, there were some artisans who I’d worked with previously for one-off things here and there who cater primarily to the tourist industry. I realized at that moment they had no source of revenue for their craftwork,” she says of Diotima’s start. “I thought, ‘this is an interesting opportunity, maybe I can work with them and make something together.’ And that's where I started with the crochet in particular, with the people in Jamaica.”
The crochet details she’s referring to are some of the most unique aspects of the brand’s offerings, inspired by pieces that were initially created by artisans in Jamaica for another purpose. “They would make these doilies and table runners, and then they would starch them to preserve them for longer. I always thought that was interesting because I’d never done that in ready-to-wear. I was working from things they had made and trying to make them [into] something new. When I went back to them with images of the garments they were like, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe you did that.’”
The challenge of launching Diotima — a brand Scott dedicates nights, weekends, and any other available time to, as she’s also committed to her full-time role at Rachel Comey — was amplified by the pervasive effects of the past year. Limited access to materials and the inability to travel played into her design decisions. One of the collection’s hits was a twist on tourist tees, with Scott’s own handcrafted touch. “I was playing with the idea that I can elevate the classic macramé T-shirt you would buy when you’re on a tourist vacation in the Caribbean in one of those cheesy all-exclusive hotels. I was printing on them and then adding crystals or glass beads, whatever I could to kind of remove it from that context in whatever way I could.”
Diotima’s second collection, Resort ‘22, is available to shop in November on its site and through Oakland-based retailer McMullen. It showcases much more of what’s to come from the label. “I’m obsessed with texture, materials, the juxtaposition of shine and matte and warm and slick,” she says. This translates to the collection's use of a unique laminate weave, printed tweeds, and lots of playful netting and transparency. Crochet details also peek from necklines, cuffs, and wrap the midsection of dresses and tops. Going forward, recurring themes for Diotima will include clean tailoring and elements of uniform dressing — nodding to her childhood and teen years in school— inspiration from dancehall style of the ‘80s and ‘90s, and Scott’s admiration of strong Jamaican women throughout its history.
“There’s one thing I try to focus on,” she clarifies “I really want to avoid being nostalgic in what I do and I think it’s really important to work trans-historically. I want to try to look forward.” Inspired by the Antwerp Six (avant-garde designers Walter Van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, Dirk Van Saene, Dirk Bikkembergs, and Marina Yee) who shaped Belgian fashion while working within the traditions of Paris and Milan, Scott aims to have a similar effect with this new chapter of her career. “I would love to find a way, with others, to contribute this new idea of Caribbean fashion that’s not exactly what it’s always been but taking some of those groundings, and working within the manufacturing capabilities there, bringing that idea of construction and craft forward, and also the idea of identity.”
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