Renowned designer Jenny Polanco spent the last four decades creating effortless women’s clothing, handbags and accessories which, as she put it, represented “a fluid dialogue between classic avant-garde style and the Caribbean.” Last Tuesday, Polanco passed away in a hospital in Santo Domingo after complications with COVID-19, marking one of over 40 deaths in the country as a result of the novel virus. Her death is a major loss in the Latin American world of fashion.
Polanco had studied interior design at the Pedro Henriquez Ureña National University in Santo Domingo and later went to the Parsons School of Design in New York to learn pattern making, draping and tailoring. Her work often intersected many of her artistic endeavors: She was also interested in dance and painting, and many of her pieces featured elegant color applications while also emphasizing fluidity and movement. Her past collections included stunning and modern all-white resort wear, experiments with floral patterns and bright monochromatic looks—all of which often wove in tender nods to Dominican and Caribbean culture. She also supported local artists from her home through the Jenny Polanco Project in Altos de Chavón, a store that sold traditional, handmade pieces she selected from Dominican, Haitian and Caribbean craftspeople.
Polanco’s distinct style made her a fixture not just in her country, but in Paris, New York and Miami Fashion Week last year. The organizers behind Miami Fashion Week celebrated her memory on Facebook in a post that read, in part, “Jenny Polanco, one of our beloved designers of 2019, unfortunately, has been taken away by this new disease. We are honored to have shared with her one of her most memorable moments.”
Her family confirmed she tested positive for COVID-19 after traveling to Madrid, which has been affected by high numbers of the virus. She was reportedly hospitalized on March 18 after having difficulty breathing, though her family clarified she had no other pre-existing conditions and had never smoked. They have indicated that they intend to keep Polanco’s legacy alive through her boutique and brand.
Her death is just one of several losses in the Latinx community both in the U.S. and across the continent. Father Jorge Ortiz-Garay, a priest who served the Mexican-American community at Brooklyn’s St. Brigid’s Church, died from the coronavirus over the weekend. Maria Mercader, a Latina journalist from CBS News, passed away on Sunday.