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A little India in London


Two of of Britain’s brightest young fashion talents, Priya Ahluwalia and Supriya Lele, bring their roots and travels to books this year

Priya Ahluwalia and Supriya Lele, two British designers of Indian descent, have been making waves in the fashion industry this year. Both were finalists for the LVMH Prize 2020. Lele was chosen for “associating her Indian heritage and British cultural identity alongside her passion for minimalism” (see box below). Ahluwalia’s use of vintage and deadstock material, updated using textile techniques, got her noticed at London Fashion week 2018. Extending their connect to the sub-continent, they’ve now compiled photo books that explore their roots.

Ahluwalia’s 2020 milestones

  • Collaboration with Matches Fashion’s Innovators programme
  • For GucciFest, she worked with film director Samona Olanipekun to create Joy, a short film that celebrates “everyday beauty and strength of the black existence”.
  • Featured in the Forbes 30 under 30 on the European Arts and Culture List

“I have the best memories of visiting India. I really do feel at home there in a strange way,” says Ahluwalia, whose eponymous label is synonymous with bombastic knits, fabulous jumpers and kitschy trucker-jacket suits. Born to a Nigerian father and an Indian mother in Britain, the multi-cultural 27-year-old’s sense of style draws inspiration from a wide mood board, including her Punjabi grandfather’s vintage 70s silhouettes.

She has warm memories of her “papaji’s” house in Chandigarh where they “drink tea and chat into the night”. She adds, “I have also visited different parts of India and my clearest memories from all of them is the delicious food!” These and other travels have informed her mood board, be it the contrasting sand on the beaches of Lagos or the sound of a market in the sub-continent. “All of this filter into my work consciously or not, as it is my lived experience,” she explains.

Priya Ahluwalia

Priya Ahluwalia  

Ahulwalia’s SS21 collection, titled liberation, saw her working with Lagos-born and London-based graphic designer Dennis McInnes, drawing inspiration from Nigeria in the 1960s, its protests and politics. Her push towards sustainability came when she visited family in Lagos in 2018, when she graduated. “I noticed a trader wearing a London Marathon 2012 shirt and another wearing a Korean T-shirt,” she says. Intrigued, she deep dived into the larger story of second hand-clothing, which led her to Panipat, the garment recycling capital of the world. “I was fascinated and concerned about how much we throw away. Visiting Panipat was life changing in that sense. I visually documented these experiences in my first book, Sweet Lassi,” she adds.

Lele in the picture

  • In December 2019, Lele travelled to her father’s hometown of Jabalpur, in what she calls “a personal journey and a pilgrimage to the reference point behind so much of the work I produce”.
  • Accompanied by friend and photographer Jamie Hawkesworth, she shot the campaign for the AW20 collection on this trip.
  • Indian models showcase her minimalistic outfits on the banks of the Narmada River at sunrise; in another, a father and daughter look out over the waters.
  • The images are now being compiled into a book that will be published early next year.

After a blistering two years where she hardly had time to breathe, 2020 has been a time of introspection. Ahluwalia took the opportunity to showcase her Punjabi life in London’s Southall through a 3D and VR exhibition based on her second self-published book, Jalebi. “The aim was to celebrate Southall and all the beautiful nuances of the diversity it represents,” she says. Spending time in the South Asian hub, known popularly as Little India, made her realise that highlighting and championing such a diverse community was important.

The book, now available for pre-order, features fashion and documentary-style photographs of street views and stores shot by Laurence Ellis, alongside Ahluwalia’s family photographs. You also get to meet her grandmother, as she shares stories from India to Britain.

From Priya Ahluwalia’s book, Jalebi

From Priya Ahluwalia’s book, Jalebi  

Ahluwalia hopes to add womenswear to her repertoire. India continues to tug at her heartstrings, and sharing her views on contemporary design in the country, she says, “Indian fashion is incredible, emotional and vibrant and the craftsmanship is some of the best in the world. I would really love to own a Sabyasachi one day.” She believes the pandemic has made her more confident. “I am resilient and much stronger than I ever thought. I also noticed the importance of community and have championed that in my work this year and I will continue to do so moving forward,” she concludes.

Jalebi is available for pre-order at approximately ₹3,500 on ahluwaliastudio.com

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