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Black hair takes centre stage as London fashion week focuses on identity

·3-min read

A poem written in the aftermath of Syria’s six-day war of 1967, the Brixton riots of 1985 and the joy and burden of heritage have all been reflected in key shows at this year’s London fashion week as political identity took centre stage.

And that was no different in the latest show from the British designer Priya Ahluwalia, which put black hair front and centre. Afro hair continues to be political: in the workplace, in schools and in a society that doesn’t connect it to identity. It’s even the star of its own literary satire in Zakiya Dalila Harris’s The Other Black Girl.

But for Ahluwalia, who has Nigerian and Indian heritage and whose show was presented via a short digital presentation, she wanted people to also think about it as a thing of beauty.

“The film is more a celebration [of] black hair and inviting people to take time and think about it in a really beautiful way,” the designer told the Guardian. “One thing I kept saying when developing the film is black hair is often used against black women and I really wanted this project to be putting black hair on a pedestal as a thing of beauty. I think creating the film is inherently political even though the theme isn’t.”

The presentation, Parts of Me, takes place on a migrant boat, and despite its brevity at less than three minutes long, touches on the longing, panic and hope around the diaspora experience. Filmed in hazy aquamarine blues and jade greens with a dreamy soundtrack from Kelly Moran, the film uses quickly cut, stark imagery, inspired by the photos of JD ‘Okhai Ojeikere as well as vintage hair salon posters, to make its larger point.

There’s a hip-hop montage of nail art, a sailor’s neckerchief and Ahluwalia’s trademark wave-like designs, which intermingle like maps or DNA, all referencing the tension and hope of migration.

The menswear designer has incorporated womenswear into the collection for the first time, including patchwork jumpsuits, a 90s clubbing-inspired sari dress, shell-like patterned cowboy boots and plenty of wonky knitwear. But hair, and specifically how it reflects identity and history, is at the heart of the digital presentation.

Passengers on the journey include a black family each wearing different styles of hair: a little girl with a spherical hair sculpture, a mother with bejewelled locks, a son with a hi-top fade and a dad with a durag. As they are locked in a four-way embrace, it’s a celebration of them but also the possibilities which await them as they leave the boat.

The show follows Qasimi’s, which took a poem written inspired by Syria’s six-day war of 1967 as its jump-off point, designer Abigail Ajobi’s show about the Brixton riots of 1985, and both Bethany Williams and Nicholas Daley’s shows, which riffed on generational legacy and heritage.

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