Iconic Jamaican fashion designer Ivy Ralph dies at 90

Ivy Ralph

(JAMAICA OBSERVER) Iconic Jamaican fashion designer Ivy Ralph passed away yesterday at Nuttall Hospital in Cross Roads, St Andrew. She was 90.

In a prescient article emanating from an interview by the Sunday Observer with her daughter, the actress/singer Sheryl Lee Ralph, she was described as “the original diva”.

Ivy Ralph earned the auspicious title after inventing the once-famous Kareeba shirt/jacket, which gained international attention when it became the signature wardrobe piece of late Prime Minister Michael Manley.

It became the standard dress for his Comrades in the People’s National Party (PNP) in the 70s, and eventually copied by several like-minded political colleagues, including Julius Nyerere (Tanzania) and his Caribbean Community colleagues Errol Barrow (Barbados) and Forbes Burnham (Guyana).

The New York Times reported in 1976 that, “The Kareeba, the styled, open-neck, over-the-pants shirt, and matching trousers suit has become the universally accepted dress for formal occasions, work and leisure wear.”

However, the Kareeba lost its political flavour after the ideological setbacks of the 1970s and early 1980s, which ended the political careers of Manley’s Kareeba-wearing counterparts.

“It was an idea I had as a child, a more comfortable style of dress for men. I wanted to help them get away from the jacket-and-tie routine to something far more comfortably suited to the island’s climate,” Ivy Ralph is quoted in her biography.

Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia Grange, in a tribute yesterday, described her as “one of the most creative Jamaicans”.

“Mrs Ralph stands tall as a pioneer of the native Jamaican fashion industry. Whenever and wherever there is talk of the Jamaican fashion industry the name Ivy Ralph must be called. She laid the platform for the success of several of our fashion designers,” the minister added.

Ivy Ralph was honoured with the Order of Distinction (OD) for outstanding contribution to the promotion of Jamaican fashion in 1999.

Sheryl Lee said that she interpreted the OD to mean “Original Diva”.

“She is the original diva, divinely inspired, victoriously audacious,” she said.

“I remember finding this huge, half-page article above the fold in The New York Times talking about this woman, Ivy Ralph, who was transforming men’s wear throughout the Caribbean and I was like, ‘Wow! That’s my mommy; wow!’”

A graduate of the Fashion Institute of New York, Ivy Ralph is survived by three other children: Michael, Stanley and Tim Ralph.

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