Ahluwalia's cultural patchwork lights up London fashion week

Designer leads fashion’s new diverse charge with looks inspired by multicultural Britain

Fashion’s default mode seems to be on the losing side of a narrative about diversity, tokenism and racism, but a new cohort of second-generation designers are fighting back. At London fashion week men’s, which began on Saturday, menswear labels such as Kaushik Velendra, Bianca Saunders and Paria Farzaneh are exploring the diaspora through their clothing designs.

Leading the charge is Priya Ahluwalia who is of Indian and Nigerian heritage and has previously used her clothes to speak to dual narratives about cross-generational influences. Her designs for her Ahluwalia label look like mosaics, pieces of a map or a scrapbook: disparate oppositional elements that should not work together but do.

Priya Ahluwalia mixes furniture design, sculpture, music and film together in her designs
Priya Ahluwalia mixes furniture design, sculpture, music and film together in her designs. Photograph: Suki Dhanda/The Observer

Before this year’s shows Dylan Jones, the menswear chair of the British Fashion Council, predicted some of the fashion on parade at the season-opening London fashion week men’s could reflect the country’s political crossroads since the Tory election landslide, saying: “London has always fostered a kind of cultural outrage.”

Ahluwalia’s autumn/winter collection, which showed on Sunday, was a great example of this: she mixed sportswear with loungewear, to create a magpie-ish, post-internet commentary on all the elements that make us who we are.

Thematically, the collection is an alternative version of the rose-tinted way the boomer generation look at their halcyon period – the 1960s. “Instead of looking at the ‘swinging 60s’, I researched what was happening across the countries me and my family are from, India, Nigeria, the Caribbean and England,” she said after the show.

“I looked at multiple disciplines such as furniture design, sculpture, music and film. I really wanted to have a sense of the zeitgeist at the time.”

Models are seen during the Ahluwalia London fashion week men’s AW20 presentation.
Models are seen during the Ahluwalia London fashion week men’s AW20 presentation. Photograph: Isabel Infantes/PA

Appropriately, patchwork was a dominant theme, whether it was on padded jackets, two-ply trousers or zipped sports tops. Patterns intermingled boldly and were offset by playful accessories like shiny pleather berets, monogrammed keychains and single black gloves worn in a belt clap. The dominant colours were muted tones of oranges and reds, the sepia tones of which recalled hazy old photographs from forgotten childhood summers.

The collection also gave a nod to 60s op artist Barbara Brown, who gave Heal’s some of its signature designs, and you could see Brown’s swirly, psychedelic patterns [think: Don Draper’s wallpaper] in Ahluwalia’s curved shapes on the padded coats and shoes.

An added dimension of this sartorial intertextuality: she uses exclusively second-hand clothes, underlining the links between generations, communities, races and the ghosts that haunt the clothes we wear.


Priya Elan

The GuardianTramp

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