3 young designers x rethinking fashion’s format
Words: Daniël Geldenhuys | Images: Getty + Instagram
London’s first fully digital fashion week in June was a showcase of fashion’s relationship with technology, forcing designers to rethink their presentation format. Some of the best new talents to rise to this occasion are no strangers to shaking up the traditional runway model: even pre-pandemic, they’ve presented their work in ways that engage with various art forms and media. As megabrands scramble to return to the pre-COVID status quo, Priya Ahluwalia, Nicholas Daley and Bianca Saunders are presenting their work in a way that feels more accessible and offers a refreshingly dynamic insight into their aesthetics.
Priya Ahluwalia was studying fashion design in London, 2017, when she took a family trip to her parents’ home countries. In Lagos, Nigeria, she noticed people wearing very specific pieces from the UK, such as a London Marathon tee. Following the breadcrumbs, she discovered the deadstock phenomenon – unwanted clothing from Europe, ejected to Africa and the East. Her next stop, Panipat, India, happened to be a particularly large deadstock deposit. It was a lightbulb moment that resulted in Sweet Lassi, a book that places photos from her trip alongside her MA collection, made from deadstock and vintage clothing.
Ahluwalia’s latest book, Jalebi, celebrates the Punjabi community living in Southall, London. Her clothing appears in photos by the photographer Laurence Ellis alongside the designers’ family photos (one of her major sources of inspiration) and an interview with her maternal grandmother on her experience of India and Britain. The book, a meditation on what it means to be a young person of mixed heritage living in Brexit Britain, was launched for digital fashion week alongside a virtual exhibition of selected works from the print edition. The virtual exhibition, still live on the Ahluwalia Studio site, allows the viewer to explore the designer’s art as they may a Google street view from anywhere in the world with an internet connection.
Ahluwalia and her fellow London designer Nicholas Daley have this year’s LVMH Prize in common. As the pandemic escalated, the final stages of the competition were cancelled and the prize money split between the eight finalists, including South Africa’s Sindiso Khumalo. With his June collection delayed, Daley dropped a playlist for digital fashion week. It makes perfect sense, considering his usual runway presentations are known to evolve into jam sessions with bands. The Scottish-Jamaican designer offers a thoroughly modern take on traditional British style, with a few Japanese references mixed in. Daley is big in Japan, stocked at the prestigious Beams Harajuku in Tokyo. Karate keeps Daley centred and so he pays tribute to the martial art in the lookbook for his SS 21 collection, Stepping Razor.
Bianca Saunders’ gender-bending brand is only two years old and she’s already on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. Instead of having models replicate mannequins at presentations, the designer had them dancing at her AW20 presentation. Her SS20 campaign was presented as part of an art exhibition, curated alongside film, poetry and photography by various artists. The campaign features Saunders’ family, an elaboration on the way her designs reference her West-Indian heritage.
For June’s digital fashion week, Saunders’ published a zine titled We Are One of the Same. Featuring genderless clothing photographed on twins, the zine is a metaphor for how humanity is always connected, while still being independent of one another. It’s a timely message that speaks to Saunders’ ability to create intelligent designs that translate into different mediums. And that’s what characterises this rising generation of designers: the ability to create work that breaks through the boundaries of the fashion system and tell meaningful stories. The future has always been bright, but it's now more dynamic than ever.