Wednesday 9th December

| BY Paul Toner

London Calling: Bianca Saunders is Next in our 10 Menswear Designers to Meet

On March 23, Boris Johnson put the UK into a lockdown unlike anything we had ever experienced, in order to protect the country from a health pandemic the majority of us had never witnessed before. A mere two months earlier we’d barged through bustling crowds at London Fashion Week Men’s (LFWM), our knees brushing up against each other as we sat tightly packed into narrow rows within busy venues dotted across the capital. Totally unaware of the storm brewing in the distance. This was to be the last LFWM as we knew it. As the global fashion schedule came to a standstill in the face of Covid-19, the British Fashion Council took the opportunity to rethink the seasonal calendar entirely. Moving forward, London Fashion Week would become one gender-neutral platform, and its first iteration would be solely digital, held this past June. 

Many London designers – not long out of university and entirely independent – didn’t have access to a studio, never mind physical resources, during lockdown. Instead, each faced the task of steering the codes that have shaped their brand thus far into uncharted waters, a URL unknown. Some crafted virtual-reality exhibitions and made capsule collections from deadstock, others decided not to show at all. So we spoke to the talent behind 10 of the city’s most promising brands to find out how they approached a season no one could have imagined. 

Since graduating from the Royal College of Art in 2017, Bianca Saunders has been a one-woman band. While many of us approached lockdown as a prolonged holiday, baking banana bread and whatnot, the designer spent her days in Zoom meetings, moving back and forth between her studio in Brixton Village and a makeshift set-up at her family home.

With a work ethic like this, it’s no wonder she earned a spot on the Forbes Art & Culture 30 Under 30 list for this year. SS21 was set to be Saunders’s first outing on the catwalk, advancing on the energetic presentations that have defined her brand thus far.

The designer has been looking to the work of Hans Eijkelboom for her next collection, an artist who would ask women what their ideal man was and then dress up as these characters – both embracing and challenging masculine ideologies, something Saunders has done from the get-go. In place of staging a digital collection this past June, the designer released a collaborative zine with the photographer Joshua Woods, which explored themes of identity, gender and togetherness.

Have you picked up any new hobbies while stuck at home?

“Yeah, definitely. I’ve been cooking quite a bit, which has been really fun, and I guess spending some real family time, even though I live at home, but actually being present – like, you can exist in certain states but not actually be interacting properly. I guess having time for exercise and exploring my area, too – there were a lot of places I didn’t even know existed. I was walking with a friend through Dulwich and I was like, ‘I don’t even know where I am right now and it’s literally down the road.’”

What was your go-to lockdown look?

“Definitely gym clothes. I didn’t do any cycling but it was mainly just workout gear because it’s so comfortable. I even wore it for meetings because I was scared I would get dressed up top and not the bottom and then mistakenly get up or something, haha.”

What’s your favourite thing about being a designer in London?

“I think it’s the accessibility and having a community that is supportive. To be able to find all the right people to collaborate with – all my friends are quite creative, too – so having people there to support me is important. It would be quite isolating if I lived anywhere else.”

What’s the worst thing?

“There’s a culture around being a struggling artist and I don’t think that’s a good thing. I think there could be further support for young designers and artists to further lead into their business plans. I think Covid made me realise there are a lot of areas that I didn’t really know about, like, ‘Oh, I should have applied for this thing or had this in place for my business’ – that sort of stuff. I guess just creating more sustainable businesses, and I’m lucky to be able to do that because I’m at the start of my career – I’m able to survive.”

Top image by Anna Stokland. Taken from Issue 52 of 10 Men – COMMUNITY, BELONGING, UPLIFTING – available to purchase here.