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The designer filtering diverse cultures into vibrant men’s clothing

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Men’s fashion – it’s like women’s fashion, but without the fun. That’s what the truism says, anyway: that women have all the variety and va-va-voom and men have shirts and sweaters. One wonders why a fashion student, let alone one who grew up devouring her mom’s fashion magazines “so chic”, “front to back, literally every word” and studied “every word”. different brands and designers ”, would choose to do a master’s degree in men’s clothing. Turns out for all of the above reasons.

“Women are easier to convince to wear something for sure,” says Priya Ahluwalia, 27, founder of London-based menswear brand Ahluwalia and the aforementioned student. “The idea is that men’s clothing is really safe and that men have been wearing the same clothes forever. But it just means that there is more room for experimentation and that more limits can be pushed.

all about priya ahluwalia

A model poses at Ahluwalia Studio DiscoveryLAB during London Fashion Week Men’s January 2020

Kate Green / BFC

In fact, Ahluwalia wonders if her clothes should be labeled as men’s clothing. “I don’t want it to be seen as if I say only men can wear it,” she says. “The friends I am surrounded by are much more fluid with their sex and gender expression.”

Whatever you choose to call it, the clothes made by Ahluwalia are a happy kaleidoscope of traditional tailoring (patchwork jackets, paneled shirts) and contemporary sportswear (pinstripe sweaters, loose sweatpants), made from of vintage clothing, in stock and recycled. Each item is unique. There are sweatpants made from recycled cotton hopsack with jacquard stripes, and hoodies and jackets sewn together from deconstructed Levi’s. It’s a poptastic blend that pays homage to the Nigerian, Indian and Jamaican heritage of the Ahluwalia family, as well as the broader immigrant experience in the UK.

“My mother is Indian, my father is Nigerian, my stepfather’s Jamaican and I was born in London,” she said. “So I grew up with these different cultures. But it’s also nuanced because my mother was born in England – Newcastle – my father was born in Nigeria, my stepfather was born in England. It filters cultures in different ways. “

A 2019 capsule collection for Matches Fashion was inspired by photographs of the grandfather of Ahluwalia, a Punjabi immigrant to the UK who favored bespoke striped suits in India. Her psychedelic fall / winter 2020 collection draws inspiration from 1965, the year her stepfather was born, for which she did extensive research on politics and art across India, Nigeria and the UK, which makes her more informed than another designer “doing” the Swinging Sixties. Other references include vintage Nigerian album covers, 60s-70s textile artist Barbara Brown, and Indian dyeing, beading and embroidery techniques.

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Then there are Ahluwalia’s own childhood experiences, watching her cousins, aunts and uncles dress up for British garage nights in South London – “they loved to raving, I used to mess around. ‘sit in their rooms watching them get ready’ – and MTV Base and Channel U.

“I feel like my ’90s version was so different from what popular culture was showing,” she says. “Not Britpop, not Kurt Cobain. My first album was 2Pac, All Eyez on Me, which my mom bought me when I was four. I was obsessed with Aaliyah and Missy Elliott music videos. Constantly surrounded by Indian, Nigerian and Jamaican people and music. “

Ahluwalia graduated from the University of Westminster in 2018, when her graduates show was purchased by influential retailers Opening Ceremony and LN-CC. In 2019, she showed her first collection in Paris as part of a collaboration between the British Fashion Council and Adidas and went on to win the H&M Design Award for New Talent. Last year, she jointly received the LVMH Prize for Emerging Designers and was named to Forbes magazine’s 30 Under 30 list in its art and culture category. She has also directed a film for Gucci’s virtual fashion film festival, GucciFest.

Almost any brand you want to name has been driving sustainability over the past couple of years. But when you make new clothes from old clothes like Ahluwalia does, durability isn’t a consideration, it’s all your MO.

“Small businesses like me have had sustainability as a value since their inception,” she says of the operation she runs from a studio in Wandsworth, south London, with a team of three. “The focus should be on the big fast fashion companies and the Internet, they have the units to really make a difference. Realistically, what impact do I have on [women’s fast fashion retailer] Missguided? They are the ones who really have to answer it. There is a lot of greenwashing going on. “

who is priya ahluwalia

‘Jalebi’, Ahluwalia’s digital presentation at London Fashion Week

Ahluwalia

On trips to Nigeria and India, Ahluwalia was fascinated to see Western clothing worn in new settings. In Lagos, she noticed “peddlers” – street vendors whipping goods to motorists stuck in traffic jams – wearing old promotional t-shirts (the “London 2012” Olympics was one) and rolled down the windows of his taxi to ask them where they got them. .

“I’m really curious,” she said. “I’m always looking to learn new things. If I hear something and don’t know what it is, I’m directly on Google. I have always liked to read books. It definitely helps in this job. During the shutdown, I took a few short courses. One on Greek mythology … it was a bit complicated, to be honest. Many graduates strive for careers in fashion; few do so by starting their own businesses. Indeed, creativity and finance – mood boards and spreadsheets – don’t always make happy bed companions. “I had in mind that I had to run a business as well as a brand,” says Ahluwalia. “I really appreciate the business aspect. My mother was instrumental in this area, she is the director of finance. I have to take this into account because I wish it was something Ido forever. “

Like any good parent, mom wasn’t entirely convinced by her daughter’s career choice, at least initially. “She was really worried. There was no one who looked like me in fashion. You haven’t seen any female, mixed-race or black designers. In fact, Ahluwalia has met the moment, and then some: If there wasn’t already a label that is creating overall intertextual formal / sportswear on an undeniably enduring tip, then in 2021 someone probably should have made it. invent one. On the zeitgeist Ahluwalia may be, but don’t expect her to be the spokesperson.

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Joyce NG

“People can be really rude,” she says. “A magazine contacted me to ask me what I thought of Black Lives Matter, while I was on vacation. This is obviously a personal matter for me. But I needed a break. I had been looking for protests for three months. I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. Then this guy found my email and said, ‘How did I think the fashion industry was going to be united if I refused to talk to him? And what was I doing to unite the industry? First, it’s not my job. Second, I don’t work for the UN, so I don’t really know what you are planning.

Race relations, sustainability, the future of the fashion industry… “I know,” she says. “God. That’s really a lot. Better to just say that Ahluwalia’s colorful designs are just about the most exciting thing in clothing right now – men, women, whatever.

“I actually like the way the men in London dress,” says Ahluwalia. “They have a very diverse wardrobe and they dress in a really versatile way.” Still, there is always room for improvement. “Just make sure things are going well. I don’t want to look like a sex pest, but there’s nothing worse than seeing jeans that don’t look good on an ass, ”she says. “I don’t think guys realize how much people look at their butt.

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