A leafy sunken garden in the city of London at peak rose time, with the paths strewn with rugs: Priya Ahluwalia’s choice of venue—and the balmy weather—was blessed. The patchwork textile runway was a kind of metaphor for her collection, Africa Is Limitless, “a tapestry of ideas” as she put it, of her responses to researching the cultures of its 54 countries. “I was thinking about how Africa as a continent is always spoken about homogeneously,” she said. “And how little the cultures and the differences between the countries are celebrated. So I wanted to look into every African nation, A-Z, Algeria to Zimbabwe, and learn a little bit more about them—be it through artists, architecture, photographers, the national flowers or animals. Because even I,” she added, “being brought up in Britain, didn’t grow up being taught that at school.”
Ahluwalia’s style—bright, pattern-rich good-times clothes for going out and showing out—is distinctively her own. Branching into hot, body-conscious womenswear has been a natural extension from her beginnings in menswear. Underneath all her designs runs the narrative of her dual Nigerian and Indian heritages—as well as her insistence on adhering to ethical and sustainable practices. Broadening her lens to take in pan- African influences, she said, “was not a matter of me wanting to copy. I made these big boards, a matrix of all the countries, and curated the bits that were talking to me the most. I really wanted the whole show and the collection to be a celebration and amplification of what people perceive to be African creativity.”
She’d brought in Tosin Adeosun, who posts her African Style Archive on Instagram, to assemble the research after they’d met on a panel discussion. The music was “a soundscape that travels from north Africa through the west down to South African Ampiano house music,” said Ahluwalia. “And we had models from lots of different locations around the continent. And an Indian element too, because there are so many Indian communities in South Africa, Kenya, Uganda and Mauritius.”
It all merged subtly into Ahluwalia’s signatures—her wave-tailoring, the patterns of knitwear drawn from African nations’ football kits; crop tops draped with both Kenyan and Somali tradition and Indian saris in mind. “And this”—she pointed to the sensational brown-orange knitted dress which came out second—“is our ‘Joy’ print, which comes from Nigerian Ankara fabric.”
With the jeweled makeup inspired by Nina Simone’s time in Liberia, and the head wraps dripping with crystals, the whole occasion came off as an event which cemented what the London fashion community looks like today—lucky to benefit from British creativity rising from leaders like Ahluwalia who are bringing the modernity of multi-dimensional culture to the fore.