Ahluwalia is a stand-out presentation of the menswear season. Designer Priya Ahluwalia graduated from The University of Westminster in just 2018 and was speaking about sustainability before your front pages were flooded with the phrase. This January, Ahluwalia presented a collection that not only proved that eco-conscious design is a viable, desirable option, but that her designs are noteworthily innovative and emotive. It was a collection that progressively honoured tradition, family and history - honouring the year her step-father was born (1965) - whilst showcasing forward-thinking garments for the modern man. Trim upcycled denim, soft-lined tracksuit and checked suit two-pieces were the foundation of this stellar selection, the Barbara Brown swirled outerwear a triumph, the Adidas Superstars and Clarks Wallabees (hand-painted by ex-intern Melanie Eames) the cherry on top. Here, Georgina Evans talks with Ahluwalia about her major A/W 20 collection.
Georgina Evans: Your brand has helped to bring sustainability and consciousness into the conversation. Have you seen a change in attitude within the industry?
Priya Ahluwalia: Thank you! That's nice to hear. I have definitely seen a change of attitude in the industry, more and more fabric mills, manufacturers, designers, and stores are thinking about how their practice has a negative/ positive effect on people and the planet, and also how they can work more ethically or sustainably without losing any desirability. Different companies often approach me to ask for my input on how they can work in better ways. I have also noticed brands that weren't currently discussing positive working practices begin to, which I think is great. It will take time for huge, seismic changes to happen but every positive change is beneficial.
GE: This collection marks a new chapter in a lot of ways but how have you changed since your last collection?
PA: I have had an absolutely amazing year in regards to my business and my work, I feel the brand has been heard, seen and respected and that is something I am so grateful for and proud of. In my personal life, I have suffered a great loss and I have been really emotionally tested. The two polar opposites have really meant I've had to grow up, even when I didn't feel I was quite ready to.
GE: Barbara Brown's psychedelic prints are infused throughout the looks, what is it that draws you to her work and is there a piece that captures this point of reference best?
PA: Whilst developing the collection, I was in a sort of 'halfway house', stuck between needing to grow up and really yearning for easier times. When I looked at Barbara Brown's work it was sort of trippy and made me feel quite lucid, like I could forget any problems when looking at it. I think the wavy line Puffa coat and the beaded polos are good examples of this. Also, the set, designed by Chris Melgram, was a big testament to this. We wanted to create a trippy 'Windrush' era living spaces.
GE: This collection felt more ambitious with the tailoring, what inspired that sartorial shift?
PA: I explored some smarter pieces in my Browns capsule that was out in November and I really enjoyed it. I wanted to keep exploring that, how can the Ahluwalia guy wear some more grown-up pieces whilst still having a fun time doing so?
GE: Would you say this is your most personal collection yet?
I would say so, yes. I think it's been the most personal because I'm always very nostalgic and sentimental anyway, but recently I have been extremely so. I guess it would come out in the work even when I am not necessarily trying to make it. The whole show, down to the soundtrack was inspired by very personal starting points.
GE: Where/how do you source your dead-stock?
It's a really long-winded process but simply, I use a range of wholesale suppliers in the UK, I often buy things in bundles which means there can be some good surprises. More recently, I have been able to partner with mills and brands to use their deadstock which has been really beneficial. I hope as the brand grows, I will be able to do more partnerships like this.
GE: What do you listen to while you work?
PA: I listen to a lot of different things, afro beats, reggae, R&B, Queen to name just a few. My Studio Manager, Femi, loves banging out some Spice Girls too. When I am on my own I listen to a lot of Podcasts because I never seem to get time to sit down with a book. Some of my recent favourites have been Mogul, The Drop Out and The Tip-Off.
GE: What's one word that you would use to describe this collection?