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BEHIND ‘TRACES’:
A LOOK INTO AHLUWALIA AW21

Exploring Priya Ahluwalia's journey to London Fashion Week.

If the last almost 12 months are anything to go by, where we’ve all been subject to being in the same environment 24/7, you’ll probably find it refreshing to see the rich in colour tracksuits among intricately decorated church-like walls in Ahluwalia’s short film and the Laurence Ellis-shot lookbook this season.

Born in South West London to a Nigerian father and an Indian mother, Priya Ahluwalia, the founder of Ahluwalia started her journey after graduating from Westminster University in June 2018. Since then, Priya has won the H&M Design Award 2019, became one of the eight LVMH Prize finalists, was listed as one of the Forbes 30 under 30 on the European Arts and Culture list and recently was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Award For British Design. 

A trailblazer in her own right, she is one of the most exciting emerging designers in the UK. Her work is characterised by her multicultural Nigerian and Indian heritage, and her fascination with ethical production – inspired by a trip to Lagos. On how Priya’s background has influenced her, she says: “I love the mixed wardrobe of a London man. Men in London can wear a suit or a tracksuit, and it works. I partner that with the vibrancy of the Lagos man, and then the craftsmanship of India. For example, I always use burnt orange, because it reminds me of the colour of the sand in Lagos, and I love the Indian dyeing, beading and embroidery methods. Things are extremely nuanced in my collections and you might not see the references at first. I’m not a literal designer,” for GQ.

For AW21, Ahluwalia’s London Fashion Week film titled Traces features Priya’s notorious daring creation. The film’s soft tone is enhanced by the enchanting sound of a trumpet, with the music produced by CKTRL, South London based musician and producer. CKTRL has worked with the likes of Sampha, Kelela and Dean Blunt in the past – and has been active in the London scene as a DJ for over a decade. 

In an interview for NTS, CKTRL explains that the lower bass notes work as a representation migration, in the way that we end up in different places when we move around. Described as “in between a music video and a fashion film”, Traces is based in a misty, slightly eerie room. The visuals spontaneously flick between the models gazing at CKTRL and the models freely flowing amongst each other. One scene cuts to a series of candles gently flickering, adding to the film’s dreamy ambience. “Emerald is a high export of Nigeria, and I was looking at all these jewels and how they travel around the world,” Priya told Vogue. The emerald can be seen in the panelling on the quarter-zip track hoodie and trousers.

Priya’s first short film titled “Joy” was launched in November 2020 at GucciFest, with a focus on the Black experience. She partnered with director Samona Olanipekun to create Joy, and it is a film described as a celebration of the “everyday beauty and strength of the Black existence”.

“When I received the first email from Gucci, I thought it was an advert or something, I was completely shocked when I opened it and they said they wanted to do a project,” Priya explained to Hypebeast.

“It feels like such an honor, and it was quite a lot of pressure but in a good way. I have had the opportunity to make a film, which has been a totally new experience for me, one I have really, really enjoyed.” The film features a more toned down colour palette than what we saw in Traces.

But it doesn’t stop there, Priya has even created a book. Sweet Lassi is one of two books by the multi-faceted creative, which focuses on a 2017 trip to visit family, in Lagos, Nigeria. The collection featured in Sweet Lassi focuses on Priya’s desire to be socially responsible in her work. The book is a much needed and urgent response to the world’s pressing climate issue, and was recognised and amplified by a number of online publications.

Priya’s journey stands out for it’s creative innovation, and unique approach to menswear which centres vibrancy and exuberance. The collection from Traces, as well as the intricate production, music and visuals – give us some excitement and hope during a time which is anything but.

Words by Lola Christina Alao / Photography by Laurence Ellis courtesy of Ahluwalia

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