Stella Jean Spring/Summer 2016 Collection

As in seasons past, Stella Jean’s show was a vibrant cultural nook. Despite its bold colors and zingy patterns, this was no straightforward travel story. Migration was the topic the Italo-Haitian designer highlighted Wednesday through her Spring offering, which she showcased, refreshingly, on a multi-racial model cast. In the face of the largest movement of refugees on the Continent since World War II, and with Italy becoming one of the main landing points, it was a bold move to launch a windblown Milan Fashion Week with a statement, and in a new and apt venue—the city’s recently opened cultural center Museo delle Culture (Museum of Cultures), or Mudec.

Departure was the starting point, and the designer’s printed T-shirts emblazoned with imagery from Once Upon a Time in America—the Sergio Leone film—was a pithy reference to Italy’s historical flux. From there, sweeping in scope, the saturated colors, rich textures, and intricate detailing of the opening looks drew references from South American climes. Voluminous, printed, flounced, and maxi skirts recalled traditional Salvadoran dress—Salvador is commonly called Bahia—and the spot where immigrants historically entered Brazil. Pom-poms, tassels, and beads embellished many of Jean’s playful accessories, like great raffia bejeweled slides and handbags. Roomy Andean-striped coats and jackets as well as cactus and parrot prints were a contemporary take on the region’s ornate style.

Overlapping continents, Jean’s signature Wax & Stripes designs—made of vibrant patterns worn across West Africa—appeared as ruffle-sleeved tunics and skirts and prim appropriations of silk pussy-bow blouses. From there the collection shifted to England. Highlighting the current exponential growth of Italian immigration to the U.K., Savile Row tailoring was the designer’s inspiration, and trenchcoats and natty shirting the material result.

Embracing what her label is known for—using African prints on European forms—Jean’s barefooted finale consisted of very commercial beachwear with a retro ’50s air—a breezy way to end her powerful, far-flung adventure.