The British-Indian-Nigerian designer at the forefront of British fashion

“When I was growing up, there weren’t many black celebrities who had natural hair,” says Priya Ahluwalia. She felt that only Eurocentric beauty ideals were promoted and that Ahluwalia’s own identity was somehow not considered valid.

Now part of a new avant-garde of British designers who are shaking up the fashion industry, Ahluwalia structures her work around her British, Nigerian and Indian heritage, using her collections to explore and celebrate her diverse upbringing. For Spring/Summer 2022, she leaned into growing black and brown hair.

“Black hair is an incredible example of art, tradition and beauty,” says Ahluwalia. “With my Spring/Summer 2022 collection, I wanted to show the beauty of black hair, turn the narrative on its head, and advance the multifaceted representation of Afro-Caribbean and South Asian culture and people in general,” she says.

To accompany the new collection, Ahluwalia has produced a short film entitled parts of me. Directed by Akinola Davies Jr, it’s a story of family ties and features multiple black and brown hair styles.

The aim is to normalize them – in the United States, for example, wearing certain traditional hairstyles, including locs, cornrows, twists, braids, bantu knots and afros, is still considered a legitimate reason non-promotion in certain corporate jobs.

Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass the Crown Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair), a bill that seeks to ban discrimination based on race in employment. The Biden administration released a statement expressing support for the law, saying, “The President believes that no one should be denied the opportunity to get a job, to do well in school or at work, to get a accommodation or otherwise exercise its rights on the basis of a hair. texture or hairstyle.

Speaking of natural and non-chemically treated hair, Ahluwalia says, “It’s often used as a basis for discrimination, and I think it’s important to amplify those conversations to show how special it is and how much it deserves. respect.”

By fusing the vibrant colors and patterns of Nigeria with the extraordinary craftsmanship of India, Alhuwalia creates a new lexicon for British menswear.  Photo Alhuwalia

Since launching her eponymous label in 2018 after completing a master’s degree in menswear at the University of Westminster, Ahluwalia has pushed the boundaries of what menswear can be. Fusing the vibrant colors and patterns of Nigeria with the extraordinary craftsmanship of India, she is creating a new lexicon for British menswear.

Despite being such a young label, Ahluwalia’s list of accomplishments is already impressive. Just months after graduating, she won the 2019 H&M Design Award, which supports outstanding graduates.

In January 2019, she made her debut at Paris Fashion Week, with a fall/winter men’s collection. That same season, she collaborated with Adidas Maker Lab and, a few months later, walked the runway at Arise Fashion Week in Lagos, Nigeria, and was chosen by the British Fashion Council’s Newgen initiative, to support its spring/summer 2020 men’s collection. .

In November 2019, she launched a 10-piece capsule collection with Browns of London and in March 2020, had been included on the Forbes 30 under 30 European list of arts and culture. In April, she was named as one of the co-winners of the 2020 LVMH Prize, then was selected by Alessandro Michele at Gucci to contribute a short film to GucciFest, with her project Joy launch in November.

The designer has also turned to women's fashion.  Photo: Alhuwalia

“I think my heritage, my story and my perspective on design offer something new to the industry. I’m really interested in the clothes that people wear in India, Nigeria and England, and I like the nuances between them. Although they have similarities, each country has its own vibe,” she says.

For spring/summer, Ahluwalia has created a mixed collection with a strong 1970s connotation. Retro tracksuits are reinvented and are now patchworked from circular pieces, to create curved lines that wrap around the body. The mesh also arrives in the form of a patchwork babydoll, and even the denim seems to be cut in the round. Tops and jackets are embellished with designs to mimic hair braids, and dresses are embellished with bold designs, sometimes with additional embroidery.

More importantly, each room is different from the next, which is vital for Ahluwalia. “In the two countries where I come from – India and Nigeria – you have a local tailor who tailors your outfit, whether it’s for a party or for life or whatever, and I think what’s interesting in this topic is that everyone can be quite unique. My brand gives people that.

“With the patchwork pieces that I create, for example, none of them are identical. I’m talking about that need for individuality and having something unique so you’re more likely to cherish it.

Priya Ahluwalia was the 2021 recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design.  Courtesy of the British Fashion Council

Part of this approach is the company’s exclusive use of dead stock – excess fabric left over from fashion makers from previous seasons. “We work with unused materials to reuse the old into exciting new garments, which not only give these materials new life, but also eliminate waste.”

For Ahluwalia, this approach is the only credible path to take. “I believe I can be responsible with business, while creating desirable, fun and interesting clothes to wear.”

This focus on sustainability has already earned The Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design, but it’s more than a token gesture, says Ahluwalia. “I did a lot of research and studied the recycling industry so I saw the reality of what we humans are doing to destroy the planet. Once you see something like this , there is no way to conceive without this in mind.

This commitment to reusing deadstock opened up new possibilities for Ahluwalia last year. This included an expansion into womenswear, via a collaboration with Danish brand Ganni, on a capsule collection made from leftover fabrics. “I always knew I wanted to get into women’s fashion, and since my first show, a lot of people have asked me. The support of the Ganni collaboration allowed me to do that.

Now a staple of the brand, women’s fashion is instinctive for the designer. “I love designing for women – I integrate myself a lot into the design process. Thinking about what my friends and I wear, and what we would like to wear on certain occasions, for example, on a date or at the club.

Ahluwalia presented its Autumn/Winter 2022 show on day two of London Fashion Week.  AFP

Ahluwalia last year also won the British Fashion Council/GQ Menswear Designer Fund, with funding of £150,000 ($197,960), and the designer was asked to rework Mulberry’s classic Portobello tote for the 50th anniversary of the brand.

When Mulberry contacted her about the project, Ahluwalia jumped at the chance. “Mulberry is such an iconic brand, that I have childhood memories of, ever since I borrowed my mum’s bag, so this was an opportunity to collaborate with a brand that means a lot to me.”

True to form, the new bags are all made from upcycled leather scraps from the Mulberry factory. While such thinking is second nature to the designer, it’s still an eye-opener for the industry at large.

As she helps reshape how fashion works, Ahluwalia could be forgiven for bragging about her impact, but she remains remarkably grounded. “There were so many highlights and I’m so lucky to have had such an amazing trip.”

Updated: May 04, 2022, 1:20 p.m.

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