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.

Contributor

Priya Elan

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
London fashion week men's makes a grab for the zeitgeist
Charles Jeffrey Loverboy, A-Cold-Wall* and David Beckham star, as interest in menswear booms

Scarlett Conlon

04, Jan, 2019 @2:53 PM

Article image
David Beckham brings brand of grit to London fashion week men’s
Ex-footballer helps his Kent & Curwen label step out from Savile Row as others push at ideas of menswear and even clothes

Lauren Cochrane

07, Jan, 2018 @6:26 PM

Article image
London fashion week: Topman and E Tautz suit up
Mens tailoring takes sartorial centre stage at both ends of budget with double-breasted suits set to be big hit next season

Simon Chilvers

23, Feb, 2011 @9:04 PM

Article image
London fashion week ends on note of 'rebellious decadence'

Topman and JW Anderson among designers mixing youthfulness, retro and a dash of paisley silk pyjamas

Simon Chilvers

21, Sep, 2011 @7:56 PM

Article image
Biker jackets and anoraks on final day of London fashion week

The man-clutch, skintight leggings and gold skeleton-inspired gladiator sandals among menswear ideas proposed for spring 2010

Simon Chilvers, assistant fashion editor

23, Sep, 2009 @10:04 PM

Article image
Vivienne Westwood gets political at London fashion week men's
Army hues, structured jackets and camouflage print take centre stage in Westwood and Craig Green’s collections

Morwenna Ferrier

08, Jan, 2018 @8:13 PM

Article image
Extinction Rebellion activists target London fashion week
Protesters to hold fashion funeral in demand for industry to take climate crisis seriously

Jess Cartner-Morley

13, Sep, 2019 @4:24 PM

Article image
London men's fashion receives royal seal of approval
Prince Charles to hold reception celebrating showcase of British menswear, which is being staged in capital for the first time

Simon Chilvers

22, Feb, 2012 @8:25 PM

Article image
London fashion week opens as coronavirus hits attendance
Event kicks off without many press and buyers from important Chinese market

Hannah Marriott

14, Feb, 2020 @12:14 PM

Article image
Topman Design goes back to the future at London men's fashion week
Creative chief aims to coax men out of skinny jeans and into wide-legged trousers with gender-fluid, 80s-inspired collection

Lauren Cochrane

09, Jun, 2017 @9:12 PM