Supriya Lele’s New Collection Was Inspired by the NHS and Women Doctors

Pin It
Supriya Lele fashion Autumn/Winter 2019 AW19 FW19 collection
Supriya Lele Autumn/Winter 2019Photography by Paul Phung

The British designer called upon a long lineage of female doctors for her Autumn/Winter 2019 collection

“I’ve taken a slightly different route for Autumn/Winter 2019, because I felt like, okay, let’s ramp it up a bit and try something a bit different,” London-based designer Supriya Lele told us late last year, when her most recent collection was in its nascent stages. “It’s quite dark, maybe... I think I’m just sort of in that mood.”

Little reminder is needed that dark clouds linger over an uncertain Britain too, a fact the city’s young designers seem well aware of: prior to Lele’s show on Monday, Richard Malone detailed in his own show notes the possible trials of gaining British citizenship he may face as an Irish national. “As an Irish immigrant, as Brexit looms large Malone has been forced to consider next steps he may need to take as a UK resident – seeking Settlement Status,” they read. His solution? A look back to simpler times: the family birthday parties of his childhood. If it’s the end of times, then why not throw a party? 

Lele, though, went inwards: a sparse, clinical Alice Kirkpatrick-designed space, where models circled PVC curtains, set the tone for a collection that was at once sensual and subversive. The starting point was NHS uniforms: the designer comes from a family of women doctors, including her mother, grandmother and aunt. The NHS is another British system facing uncertain futures – a report just last week showed over-worked NHS employees were leaving in record numbers due to long hours; stories of underfunding at local and national levels persist. 

So the NHS “blue cross” became a recurring motif, emerging from a design found on archival Indian fabric, and painted on to rubberised cotton outerwear. Technical nylon dresses – some zip-up with collars, others strict and high-necked – recalled medical uniforms and surgical scrubs (neck-to-hem zips and lingerie-style detailing prevented them from feeling austere). Vinyl coats, with a mohair fur trim, lent a fetishistic edge. There was renewed focus on function and precision – Lele is a confessed disciple of 1990s-era Helmut Lang

Lele’s dual Indian and British cultural heritage has lent a distinct perspective to her work since graduating from London’s Royal College of Art: previous collections have recalled the drape and ornament of the sari, signatures she returned to here. Bodices and bra-tops – ruched and off-the-shoulder – were an evolution of last season’s “sari-tops” and worn over fine gossamer-mesh pullovers. Richness came in a beaded chainmail vest and skirt, and a layered colour palette of sharp yellows, powdery pinks and blues, alongside warmer, earthy shades. 

“It’s about re-looking at histories and shaping your own reality through dialogue and intellectualism,” fellow designer Graces Wales Bonner told AnOther of her own A/W19 collection, held on Sunday, a day prior. Lele’s work echoes this sentiment, alongside a number of fellow London-based designers – including Malone, Simone Rocha and A Sai Ta, among others – each one grappling with the weight of identity, and what it means to be a designer in Britain today.