Tuesday 22nd September

| BY Paul Toner

Ahluwalia: Menswear SS21

Back in June, Priya Ahluwalia released Jalebia celebratory photobook and virtual exhibition that spotlighted Southall’s Punjabi community. The project, which took 18 months to put together, was released amidst a wave of global protests against racial injustice. “I wonder whether Black Lives Matter would have had such a global audience if the whole world wasn’t on pause because of Covid?” questions the designer today. “I think it could have been easier for people to look the other way if they were all busy with their normal lives.”

The designer uses her practise to explore her Nigerian and Indian heritage, and sociology and politics often filter into her work. Amidst a health pandemic and a global civil rights movement, the designer began to naturally reflect on global culture at large: “Such seismic changes are just hard to ignore, there was no avoiding my feeling about the topic when designing the collection as a Black designer in western Europe,” she affirms.

Dubbed Liberation, Ahluwalia’s SS21 collection saw the designer collaborate with Lagos-born, British graphic designer Dennis McInnes. The two looked at newspaper clippings, archival posters and photographs taken from protests in 1960s Nigeria – which were then built upon to create the clothes.

“It was important to me to create a graphic collection that would translate well digitally because we’re not doing physical shows,” says Ahluwalia. “We have similar backgrounds and interests, but Dennis definitely brought a fresh perspective to the table.” The designer pulled certain colours, fabrics and themes that were prevalent in such imagery, as well as the influence of today’s Black Lives Matter protests, to transfer moments of courage and stength into her most refined collection to date.

Hues are noticeably muted – mustards, forest greens, earthy shades of beige and grey – collaged together in Ahluwalia’s signature collisions of deadstock, upcyled fabrics. Lockdown restrictions prompted the designer to source materials even more locally than before. “I think it’s really important to support local communities and economies, especially in trying times. So many markets in London are facing closure to be replaced by soulless, “luxury” flats,” explains the designer. “There is something magical and truly energetic about marketplaces that I really enjoy when I visit them.”

This season’s relaxed silhouettes – layered with various prints and geometric shapes  – are some of Ahluwalia’s strongest looks yet. From strong denim adorned with zig-zag patterns, to spliced-together polo shirts, these are desirable, super wearable pieces with meaning rooted within their seams.

Photography by Joyce Ng.