In the new issue of AnOther Magazine, Priya Ahluwalia shares how she fell in love with film fashion during the pandemic, why she expanded her brand to womenswear and her favorite spot in London
This article is taken from Spring/Summer 2022 issue of AnOther Magazine:
Plans to meet Priya Ahluwalia in his London studio late last year were sabotaged due to rising Covid-19 R rates in London. We end up doing the interview via Zoom, so I ask him to describe what’s on his walls.
“I have huge mood boards. I always have the previous season and the current season that we’re working on,” she says. big balls of fabric swatches and textile technique experiments, lots of trinkets from my travels, plants, books…” She would like more studio space, to help accommodate the increase -the capacity needs of her design team and the ever-increasing awareness of Ahluwalia, the label she founded in 2018. Another staple of her studio?“All my awards,” Ahluwalia proudly declares. She last won the BFC/GQ Designer Fashion Fund and the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design, and was named Leader of Change for Environment at the Fashion Awards.She is just 29 years old.
Ahluwalia brand debuted as a menswear brand – “I feel like there’s so much to explore in menswear” – and quickly garnered praise for color-filled collections vivid, exuberant patterns, fusions of sportswear and couture, and signature quilts.
These creations combine materials such as repurposed denim, nylon sliced from old tracksuits and knit panels from vintage sweater vests, a technique that is not only a statement on consumption, but also allows it to replicate the methods which she witnessed during trips to India and Nigeria, her countries of heritage. Expressing this heritage through design is far from an exact science – “It seeps in sometimes intentionally and sometimes randomly” – but her exposure to the fashion economies of these countries has had a lasting impact on her brand. “When I am in India, I am constantly inspired by the intricate embroidery and textile techniques and how they vary from state to state. In Nigeria, I visited amazing indigo dye houses.
“Because I’m a woman of color with dual heritage and work sustainably, this can all take so much talking” – Priya Ahluwalia
Her Spring/Summer 2022 collection is among her most ambitious – it includes the bags she collaborated on with Mulberry, which evoke the flamboyant styles of Lagos urban fashion. “There’s a shade of burnt orange that I use constantly – it reminds me of the color of sand on the streets,” she says. The geometric waves and embroidery of the garments are inspired by the details and symbolism of African hair. This is her first mixed men’s and women’s collection. Her influences range from photographer JD’ Okhai Ojeikere’s monumental documentation of Nigerian social and cultural life to vintage lounge posters and ’90s music videos by TLC, Aaliyah and Missy Elliott that she grew up watching on MTV Base. For the presentation of the collection at London Fashion Week, she collaborated with director Akinola Davies Jr to create the film parts of me, a meditation on the hairstyles of black and South Asian women. He follows his shorts Joyscreened at GucciFest in 2020, and tracks, made for his Fall/Winter 2021 collection last year. It’s a change in direction that she attributes to the pandemic. “I don’t know if I would have done movies if we could still do the track – I may have fallen in love with something I didn’t know I liked.”
Ahluwalia’s early love of fashion was inspired by her mother, who raised her in South West London. “She’s a very stylish woman, she liked to shop and feel good. I have plenty of old photos of her that often come to mind. Ahluwalia has been experimenting with her own fashion for as long as she can remember, recalling the school days when she customized her little Nike Just Do It bags and changed her hairstyle every two weeks. “I used to wear really big bamboo earrings, always changing my uniform and having my skirt too short.” The salons of Tooting Broadway were where she headed for her first excursions into glamor – and she continues to visit them today for nails, braids and eyebrow threading. “I love Tooting,” she says. “There’s this road that’s full of African and Caribbean businesses, and another that’s very India-focused. I can get anything I need. There is a Congolese salon where I go. There is a great sense of community.
Given its focus on recycling, upcycling and regeneration in its reuse of fabrics, it’s understandable that its label is regularly labeled as sustainable. While the designer is no doubt committed to ecological integrity in her production, she finds the case categorization limiting. “Because I’m a dual-heritage woman of color and work sustainably, it can all take so much talking,” she says. “Our brand is really small and we try to be as positive as possible.” Despite these frustrations, she embraces being a leader of change and is particularly driven by a commitment to diversity and inclusion that she also brings to the board. During her collaboration with Mulberry, she asked the brand to review its diversity and inclusion policy to prevent hair discrimination. Walking into Mulberry stores and seeing black staff members with locs and braids – “They were so happy about it. Apparently they all went to get their hair done shortly after the announcement” – was one of his proudest moments.
Ahluwalia’s dual heritage and sustainability practices do not distract from the fact that: “actually, I am a good designer”. His ambition is immense. “I can imagine you could walk into a house and have an Ahluwalia lampshade and bedspread. But I would also like to keep trying to be a thought leader and an innovator in these spaces, to make the case that we can create and design beautiful things without destroying the planet.
Hairstyle: Christian Eberhard at Management Artists using ORIBE. Makeup: Christelle Cocquet from the Calliste agency. Models: Tanya Churbanova at Monster Management, Daria Koshkina at Ford Models, Olli Heinimäki at The Sisterhood, Eny Jaki at Oui Management, Mamuor Awak at Elite, Yura Nakano at Bananas and Yuki van Gog at Platform Agency. Cast: Daniel von der Graf and Andrea Prato. Scenography: Sophear at Art et Commerce. Manicure: Anaïs Cordevant at Saint Germain. Digital technology: Lorenzo Touzet. Lighting director: Christian Bragg. Photographic assistant: Jonas Bjurman. Stylist assistants: Nicola Neri, Valentine Jaquier and Alyssa Saim. Hairdressing assistant: Giada Marina Giorgio. Makeup assistant: Aya Murai. Manicure assistant: Sueva Foltzer. Scenography assistants: Victor Leverrier and Alexis Mounoury. Production: City Productions. Production assistants: Mélissa Lartigue and Agathe Halin
This article appears in the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of AnOther Magazinewhich is for sale here.
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