Ahluwalia’s Latest Book ‘Jalebi’ Heads To Southall To Spotlight London’s Punjabi Community
Priya Ahluwalia has a sweet tooth. Her favourite treat is Jalebi, a popular Indian sweet that consists of deep-fried maida batter that’s soaked in sugar syrup. Jalebi also happens to be the title of the designer’s latest project, a deeply personal, 100-page photobook which is an ode to Southall’s Punjabi community. Ahluwalia’s mother is Punjabi and her father is Nigerian – her experience as a young mixed heritage person growing up in London plays a central role in her design lexicon. Growing up, the now 27-year-old designer would take regular trips to Southall with her family. The west London district – often nicknamed ‘Little Punjab’ – is home to the largest Punjabi community outside of India.
Teaming up with photographer Laurence Ellis, a regular fixture in the Ahluwalia brand since the designer graduated from the University of Westminster back in 2018, as well as stylist Riccardo Maria Chiacchio and art director Jaime Perlman, the project took 18 months and plenty trips to Southall to put together. Jalebi walks the fine line between fact and fantasy. Docu-style photographs of shopfronts sit beside construction workers wearing turbans and market-stall traders sporting England footy jerseys. Working with Troy Casting, Ahluwalia was able to get members of the local community involved in the project. School children can be seen standing on the highstreet waving gigantic flags that are stamped with the designer’s own family photographs. Family is a key fixture throughout the project. Dotted throughout Jalebi are excerpts of when the designer interviewed her own grandmother, integral to Ahluwalia as it meant the project had a Punjabi perspective interwoven throughout.
Although the designer’s clothes do appear within the project, Jalebi is in no way a campaign for the brand. Instead, Ahluwalia finds more inventive ways to convey to the vibrancy of her designs through the images. A series of photographs see parked cars draped in scarfs stitched together to create giant blankets; reminiscent of Ahluwalia’s own patchworked menswear.
Jalebi follows Ahluwalia’s first book, Sweet Lassi, which took the designer to Panipat, India. Known as the fabric recycling capital of the world, the book captured mountains of clothing that simply goes to waste. Baring in mind that the designer released this book to coincide with her MA graduate collection, to say Sweet Lassi had a tremendous impact on the industry is an understatement. Although she was just at the starting line of her career, Ahluwalia firmly put herself at the forefront of the sustainable revolution.
To coincide with Jalebi’s release and the inaugural digital London Fashion Week, Ahluwalia has teamed up with Chameleon Visual to create a 3D, virtual reality exhibition that brings Jalebi to your living room. Exploring the digital space, you can’t help feeling not only utterly impressed, but profoundly moved as well. Now more than ever, it seems Britain is fraught with division. Ahluwalia and Ellis started creating Jalebi just as the Windrush scandal broke, and are releasing the book into a world that is rife with racial injustice. Before the brutal murder of George Floyd, the designer had already decided to donate all profits from the book to the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust and Southall Black Sisters – which are both vital organisations who work within BAME communities throughout the country.
To have a designer like Ahluwalia celebrating multiculturalism so profusely, addressing themes around race, class and identity through her practice, has never been more important.
You can purchase ‘Jalebi’ and view the accompanying digital exhibition here.