Bianca Saunders’ approach to menswear is best described as a dance between opposing forces: tradition and modernity, thought and physicality, masculinity and femininity. The RCA graduate quickly emerged as one to watch on the London circuit after launching her namesake label back in 2017, and in the years since has produced a series of subversive collections which have, each season, offered fresh new takes on codes of masculine dress. Rising up through McQueen’s talent incubator, the Sarabande Foundation, Saunders made Forbes’ ‘30 under 30’ list of young entrepreneurs in 2020, was shortlisted for the LVMH Prize in 2021, and, most recently, was awarded the prestigious ANDAM award. This week, the designer made her solo debut at the Autumn/Winter 2022 men’s shows in Paris.
Presented yesterday morning, the collection was a celebration of all Saunders has built so far. Distorting twists on cut and construction, an artful blend of tailoring and casual shapes, and an obsession with movement and the body – how clothes look, and feel, when we live in them – were all there. As the press notes stated, it was an offering which “defines her design world then pushes it forward”. Previously drawing inspiration from Black culture and her West Indian heritage, Saunders’ past collections have looked to the 1990s dance halls of Jamaica and the queer ballrooms of New York, to Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It and family photos taken by her mother, aged 18, in Jamaica. This season, though, the story was simply about the clothes.
Cementing the “language of her label”, a theme of warping ran throughout the collection, which saw head-to-toe looks in TV static prints, jackets and coats which were wrapped around the body, and trousers shifted to the right. Always toeing the line between formal sophistication and the everyday, the silhouettes were a mix of classic tailoring, workwear, and streetwear shapes in luxurious leather, denim, cotton, and tweed. “I want the collection to be timeless – it could be now, it could be the past, it could be the future,” the designer said. “It’s not just about one person – I want everyone to see a part of themselves in it.”
In the wake of her solo show debut, six creative voices weigh in on Saunders’ design philosophy and why they love wearing her clothes.
Najia Li Saad, Casting Director
“I first met Bianca when we were studying at different universities under Kenya Hunt's grassroots mentorship scheme ROOM Mentoring. We were Kenya's first group of mentees when she started the scheme. It’s also how we also started working together as creatives post-education.
“When I do casting for Bianca Saunders, I am actively looking to challenge the conventions of what it means to be masculine. For me, masculinity is something that doesn't need to draw attention to itself, and so I search for qualities that exist in harmony with all aspects or parts of someone's identity – a masculinity that is quietly present and beautiful but not the defining factor.
“A few of my favourite pieces that I currently own by Bianca are a light blue creased misfit buttoned down shirt from the A/W21 Superimposed collection and the S/S21 tailored black trousers and crossbody red leather wire bag. For me, they are every-occasion pieces that have a balance of smart, casual and fun which suits my general style. There is something really powerful and sexy about wearing Bianca’s clothes as a woman. Perhaps it’s the feel of smart menswear tailoring on a female figure. I love the practicality and comfort of her pieces, even when they often have an unusual twist in the design.”
Stavros Karelis, Founder and Buying Director of MACHINE-A
“I remember seeing Bianca’s first collection when she graduated from the RCA, and I was immediately intrigued by her take on menswear. There were these voluminous, sculptural trousers and tops styled with sheer layered undergarments, which were worn on the outside, creating this sensuality which was not yet as present on the menswear scene. The first item of Bianca’s that I got was from The Graduate Project we did for MACHINE-A back in 2018, which is this black sheer top, followed by what became one of her signature techniques: the ruched shirt, which is one of my favourite items.
“Bianca is one of the most intelligent designers of her generation, a calm yet strong force who really understands the current status quo of menswear – and that calm force translates into her collections too. I am so excited to see the future of her brand, including the incredible collaboration with Farah that is launching soon.”
“I feel so part of [Bianca’s] journey. Anytime she does something I feel like it’s a win for me – I mean that in the sense that for young Black kids to come into the space and be rewarded and celebrated in real time” – Quil Lemons
Quil Lemons, Photographer
“I don’t remember exactly how I found out about Bianca Saunders, but I feel like we just kept ending up in each other’s algorithm. We started with the love language of connecting on Instagram with someone you never met, who lives in a different city, but you guys are just supportive of each other. In the beginning we were just commenting emojis, and then that evolved into me commenting on every picture of hers. I would comment “laid” because her hair is always immaculately done. I was like, ‘Oh, she is making sure that every time she's seen that the image of Bianca Saunders is going to give exactly what the brand gives.’ When I came to London for the first time in June, she was one of the first people I met when I was able to leave quarantine, and it was like being injected into this community because she's a core part of this new moment happening in London. It was so nice and so familiar to be far from home and to be around people that feel so much like home.
“I love what Bianca is doing. She’s probably one of the most talented people coming out of fashion right now … She knows the tailoring, she knows the cut. I like that her clothes are a little oversized because it feels masculine, but not in a way that’s overt; there’s a sophistication to it. I turned 25 this year, and I’m in this transitional period of finding a way to relay maturity in things I wear. When I put Bianca’s clothes on, it allows me to still be youthful but taken seriously … I think that she dances a really cool line, and it makes me feel understood.
“I feel so part of [Bianca’s] journey. Anytime she does something I feel like it’s a win for me – I mean that in the sense that for young Black kids to come into the space and be rewarded and celebrated in real time. I’m excited to see her brand grow. I remember when I was talking to her, I was like, ‘Where do you see this going?’ She said, ‘I want to be like JW [Anderson]. I want to be like Simone [Rocha].’ I was like, ‘Girl, you're basically one appointment away.’”
Devin N. Morris, Artist
“I‘m a shopping addict – I tend to find clothes at 5am. I shop online a lot at places like Browns Fashion, Apoc, LN-CC, Ssense, and I feel so lucky when I find someone on Instagram who is not too popular. I’m looking for a true element of craft, because my work as an artist is also based in craft.
“I’m online often and I follow a lot of people in London on Instagram. I came across Bianca Saunders through shopping and then connected a name to a face through a friend posting her work. I own three pieces by her. I have a pair of shorts she did for the Wrangler collaboration, a jacket with padded shoulders and a white tank. They’re everyday pieces, but the first time I wore her clothes was to an art opening I had at Company Gallery last year. By that time we’d discovered each other and she reposted the picture.”
“There’s a certain bravado that comes with wearing Bianca’s clothes, a pride even” – Louis Culture
“In London, Bianca Saunders’ stuff was getting popular and gaining traction. Some of my friends are some of her friends too, and I’d just walked in the Martine Rose S/20 show. All these new young Black designers like Wales Bonner’s names kept coming up. I got street casted to do the Bianca Saunders A/W20 Videolight campaign and that’s when I had a look at her work. I was like woah, it’s really cool. I liked how she was tying in her Jamaican heritage, obviously being a Jamaican myself. I just proper rocked with what she was doing and what she was trying to bring to the fashion world.
“Shooting the A/W20 campaign was cool, it was such a nice family vibe. When I got there Bianca’s mum had done some catering so there was lovely Jamaican food there, loads of fruit and stuff. I cycled from Vauxhall with Louis Culture, I did the shoot with him, and it was a proper hot day. It was nice, everyone was welcoming and cool. It was nice to meet and chill with them and try some really nice clothes on.
“In the Videolight campaign, I wore the blue slip cuff jeans – those are at the top of my list to get but I can’t find them anywhere. There’s a nice twist on it, it has that 70s feel. I felt good, the clothes were sturdy. I get the hype around it, it felt powerful to wear the clothes. I wish I could’ve gone home with them.”
Louis Culture, Musician
“I’ve always resonated with fashion designers in the sense that I treat my own releases as collections. My initial introduction to Bianca Saunders was through her A/W20 Videolight collection. I remember seeing clips online of the show and my friend Benny Mails’ DJ set – the whole ting looked wholesome. I first met Bianca in person after I was approached (along with Kam-Bu) to appear in her first print campaign for Luncheon magazine.
“I remember admiring the collaboration between herself and Karen Binns on set. They both represent and combine two journeys of the Black diaspora and convey it extremely well to both their reference points and life experiences – even down to challenging the wide pallet of Black masculinity by reminding us of how flamboyant the generations before us have been. Despite how much flack post-808s Kanye West era rappers have received, it’s as if dancehall culture and a head-to-toe Run-DMC leather fit never happened.
“A majority of the wardrobe for my last music video Dream was also from the Bianca Saunders archive. I’ve always appreciated Bianca and her team’s willingness to include me on their journey and their equal support of mine. Although I’ve only worn the tan ones, I think the Barlon leather pants are among my favourite pieces, and also my Videolight VHS T-shirt which is the first piece I owned. There’s a certain bravado that comes with wearing Bianca’s clothes, a pride even. It’s south London, it’s Jamaica, it’s Black business. It’s us. And not many of us at that.
“So whether it’s watching her occupy spaces at Paris Fashion Week, conversing with Samuel Ross or winning the ANDAM Fashion Award, it’s aspirational not only for any Black woman to witness the possibilities but for any young Londoner to understand that it can be ours too.”