Ahluwalia’s Autumn/Winter 2021 Collection Explores the Nuances of Migration

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Traces 2021 film still Priya Ahluwalia Stephen Isaac-Wilson
Traces, 2021(Film still)

Emerging designer Priya Ahluwalia’s latest offering represents a visual celebration of the societal and cultural effects of migration

Fashion, filmmaking and literature collide in Priya Ahluwalia’s new Autumn/Winter 2021 collection, which was revealed on Saturday as part of London Digital Fashion Week. The British designer, who was born in South London to a Nigerian father and a mother of Indian descent, launched the menswear range for her namesake brand with a captivating film created by Stephen Isaac-Wilson with choreography by Holly Blakey, styling by AnOther senior fashion editor-at-large Nell Kalonji and production design by Chris Melgram.

Titled Traces, the film elegantly celebrates themes of migration, brotherhood and unity – all of which are at the premise of Ahluwalia’s collection. “The research started after I read the book Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi [the Ghanian-American author],” she explains. “The themes of the book span across family, migration and ancestry, and lead me to think about societal and cultural effects of migration. I thought about the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and the idea of syncretism. I then started to amalgamate different reference points such as the work of Kerry James Marshall [the American artist] and migration maps.” Marshall’s work influenced Ahluwalia’s colour palette, which focuses on black and brown tones with the occasional pop of jewel, ombre prints and dip dye across the pieces designed with her signature street style meets high fashion hybrid – the Deep Heat polo is her personal favourite.

Ahluwalia, an eco-friendly brand, has always showcased the beauty of multiculturalism whilst personifying the lived experiences of Black and Asian communities through an artistic lens. The brand’s Spring/Summer 2021 collection titled Liberation was a direct response to the Black Lives Matter movement and at last year’s GucciFest, Ahluwalia premiered Joy, a five-minute visual ode to Black existence in everyday life. “Authentic storytelling is important to me because representation is so important,” says the designer, who recently won a British Fashion Award for being a leading force in sustainable menswear fashion. “I also just think it’s such a nice way to connect with people.”

Traces marks her first collaboration with Isaac-Wilson, a London-based filmmaker known for his innovative take on race, sexuality and intimacy. “When I came up with the initial idea for the film, it was actually with Stephen in mind to direct it,” she recalls. “I love Stephen’s films for his use of movement as well as music and I really knew he’d be perfect for this. I sent him all of my research including notes and what I’d been reading. He was then able to add his take on it all.” The film features music by producer, composer and multi-instrumentalist cktrl, who has been co-signed by the likes of Virgil Abloh, Bianca Saunders and Beyoncé, following a cameo on her project, Black Is King. “When I knew I wanted to explore ideas of migration and movement, I was hoping cktrl would be on board to star in the film and compose music for it,” says Ahluwalia. The whole process was a really nice exchange of ideas.”

Ever the visionary, the 27-year-old has her sights on going global with the collection. ”I’ve worked hard this season to try and design a collection that can be mixed and matched and would work for a global audience, so I’m looking forward to talking with buyers about it.” Ahluwalia, who is an eloquent advocate for creative people of colour, particularly in the British fashion scene, is optimistic yet mindful of the progress being made in the industry. “I hope the future of fashion is more inclusive across all areas,” she says. “And not just in public-facing jobs, such as modelling or designing but also in production, editorial roles and marketing.”