Let’s take it back to 1965.
In America, Martin Luther King Jr. is leading the Selma marches in Alabama. Over in Asia, India and Pakistan are amid border conflicts. Here in the UK, a cultural renaissance is in full swing. For Priya Ahluwalia, the year also signifies something much more personal – a special time for her family. And so that era became the starting point for the Ahluwalia AW20 collection. “I enjoy the now but also think about the romanticised ideas of how yesterday was easier, even though it might not necessarily be true,” says the designer, admitting the trapping nature of nostalgia. “Nevertheless, I am still nostalgic all the time.”
As her inspiration, Ahluwalia looked at the year 1965 through a cross-disciplinary overview of the times, going against the cultural cliches of Swinging Sixties or Flower Power.
While looking at all territories that hold roots to her heritage – UK, India, Nigeria, the Carribean – Ahluwalia snapshots a broader scope of societies in 1965, here translated into her most personal collection yet. “As I’m having to grow up for a number of different reasons, I still want to be in a lucid, playful fantasy world,” she explains, finding her haven in the works of Barbara Brown, a British print designer best known for creating under the heritage furniture store Heal’s in the 1960s and 1970s. While quintessentially of the time, her prints reflect a sense of constrained psychedelia through a controlled visual trip of colours, lines and textures.
Transformed into garments, these inspirations form graphic shapes reminiscent of op-art. Instead of prints, the panels in garments create macro patterns that pay homage to the lines in Barbara Browns’ wavelength-like works. This notion extends also into the outerwear (the padding of the puffer jacket mimics the curves) as well as the set design for the presentation, imagined to subvert the mundane domestic environment of 1965 in collaboration with Chris Melgram. With the show soundtrack, Leo Gibbons continues with the inspiration from the era, using the genres of dub and ska to reference the Windrush generation of the times.
Following her exploration of a smarter world with the Browns Fashion capsule collection back in November, Ahluwalia continues to infuse the sportswear design portfolio with formal tailoring. Thanks to a simple question of what to wear with what, the end result is a combination of matching twinsets, then masterfully mismatched for the presentation by Ahluwalia’s collaborator and stylist Riccardo Maria Chiacchio.
Being conscious is always at the core of Ahluwalia’s ethos. While continuing to source deadstock textiles and using leftover materials from her past projects, the designer expands her network of sources and introduces new techniques. Rather than printing or bleaching onto denim, she uses laser to embed the curved shapes onto the jeans. And even with the few new textiles that are being used, such as the jerseys and polyblends, it’s been made sure they have been recycled. And even in the make-up department, MUA Crystabel Riley is working with a no-waste approach.
The AW20 collection also marks a new chapter in two partnerships. The recognisable three white stripes appear in the ready-to-wear, as Ahluwalia uses archival fabrics from Adidas, while also customising their iconic Superstar trainer silhouette. Everyone’s favourite school shoes Clarks’ Wallabees and desert boots complete the total look, also customised to fit right into the time-travelling story of 1965 a la Ahluwalia.
Ahluwalia was launched by London-born Priya Ahluwalia in 2018, after graduating from the MA Menswear course at The University of Westminster and winning the H&M Design Award 2019. As part of her designs, Priya takes elements from her dual Indian-Nigerian heritage and London roots to explore the life of vintage and deadstock clothing, using textile techniques to give them new life. AW20 marks Ahluwalia’s fourth collection, having already shown during Paris Fashion Week in collaboration with Adidas (AW19) and through a standalone presentation at London Fashion Week Men’s (SS20).