2019 was a big year for designer Priya Ahluwalia. She won the H&M Design Award, created a capsule with Browns and started writing a book. And she is showing no signs of slowing down in 2020.
Kicking off the decade with her AW20 menswear collection, Ahluwalia has looked to her dual Indian-Nigerian heritage and family history to create new designs that also incorporate recycled materials. Here she explains the inspiration for her latest looks.
Tell us about your AW20 collection.
The year 1965 is significant to me and my family so this season I really want to explore it in a more nuanced way than simply referencing the Swinging Sixties. I looked into what was happening in the countries of my family heritage: India, Nigeria and the Caribbean, as well as England. I looked across disciplines such as art, film and furniture design and I also researched the political climate at the time. In England there was mass immigration from India and the Caribbean, in India there was conflict with Pakistan. Through my research I found the textile artist Barbara Brown who really inspired a lot of the motifs in the collection.
How is this collection different from your previous collections?
The collection is different because I am different. I have had to grow up a lot and become stronger over the last year and I think it can be sensed in the collection. The swirls and the curves in the collection have come from me still wanting to create a lucid and dreamlike world within a serious context.
What did you listen to when you were making this collection?
I have quite an eclectic taste in music so I was listening to a lot of different stuff. A lot of Burna Boy and Afrobeats, old school R&B, some dub and reggae and some Queen.
One of my favourites podcasts was The Assassination, which is about the first and only Pakistani President, Benazir Bhutto, and her subsequent assassination. Another one I really liked was called Tunnel 29 about a group of students that built a secret tunnel under the Berlin Wall to help people escape East Berlin, and The Last Days of August, which is a behind-the-scenes dive into the porn industry.
You use recycled materials in your collections. Why is that important to you?
I have done so much research into the second-hand clothing industry and disposal of fabrics.
I visited Panipat, India, which is the global capital of recycling clothing and after seeing the sheer amount of things that we discard, I just feel like I can’t design in any other way. This season I worked with partners such as Adidas, to receive old stock, and Calik Denim, for recycled denims. As the brand’s status has grown, it has helped us to get more access to deadstock materials. The design is often lead by what is available which is almost a backwards or upside down way to work.
What does your camera roll look like?
Something like this…
How would you describe your aesthetic?
What does London mean to you as a designer?
I am lucky to have lived in Greater London all of my life. There are so many ways the city inspires my work from thinking about the aesthetics of what me and my friends wore to school and what people wear in clubs, to the huge amount of amazing museums and galleries in the city.
When did you realise you wanted to be a fashion designer?
I’ve always wanted to be a fashion designer, though I did think about being a vet at one point. I did a day’s experience and cried the whole time so I went back to fashion! While talking to my little cousin recently I thought about the fact that I am doing what I wanted to do when “I grew up” and I’m really happy about that. And quite proud.
What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
To be honest there are so many, but the main ones have to be creating [my book] Sweet Lassi; winning the H&M Design Award in 2018; collaborating with Adidas at Paris Fashion Week; my independent London Fashion Week debut and 12 international stockists, and the November capsule collection with Browns. These are all things I dreamt of in my wildest dreams, and due to focus and dedication I was actually able to achieve them. I am blown away every day. It’s amazing that all of this work for me. I am so grateful for every single editor, writer, buyer and customer that has believed in the brand.
What is your new year’s resolution?
‘I f**ked up already, 2021 is going to be my year, I can feel it.’