Indian-Nigerian menswear designer Priya Ahluwalia's eponymous brand, Ahluwalia, is a sartorial celebration of place, personage and multiculturalism. Growing up with a Punjabi mother and a Nigerian father in south-west London in the 1990s, Ahluwalia's formative years were peppered with regular family trips to Lagos and Panipat, a city just north of Delhi.
Graduating from the University of Westminster in 2018 with a Masters in Menswear, Ahluwalia gained recognition with her debut SS19 collection and book, Sweet Lassi. Since then, the brand has become one of the most anticipated collections at London Fashion Week.
As a business, Ahluwalia is dedicated to championing responsible sourcing and manufacturing techniques. Capturing a certain nostalgia (note the hallmark patchwork technique), its collections are composed of vintage, recycled and deadstock textiles.
Ahluwalia was also a 2020 winner of the highly coveted LVMH Prize - an award that was ultimately shared across an octet of finalists (including fellow London-based designers Supriya Lele, Nicholas Daley and British- Bulgarian duo Chopova Lowena) due to the coronavrius pandemic - nodding to the young designer's rising star that looks set to shoot ever higher.
You're based in London and of Indian-Nigerian heritage. How does your background inform both your sense of self and your work?
Being raised around different cultures has influenced my tastes across music, film and art. I love learning about global history as well as my own heritage, both of which guide my research. They filter into everything I do. Within fashion design and craftsmanship, there's so much that has come before me - I think it's really important that I honour it while always looking forwards.
As an eco-conscious designer, how do you find a balance between creating and contributing to the fashion industry's waste problem?
By having my own business and doing it all on my own terms - using deadstock alongside organic and recycled materials - I can create garments in the most positive way possible. If I can try to disrupt the supply chain, it might inspire others to follow suit.
How do you source your deadstock?
I work with a lot of wholesalers and mills to find fabrics and deadstock materials. I send out emails periodically to find out what suppliers have and also travel around the UK looking for gems. The vintage and deadstock garments and textiles that I find in this way are generally used as my main source of material. This is supported by plenty of organic or recycled fabrics, which means that each set of garments I make is unique.
What do you listen to while you work?
In the studio with the team we listen to music - the genre is always changing. Of late, it's been a lot of Burna Boy, Snoh Aalegra and Pop Smoke. By myself, it's podcasts or audiobooks; I recently relistened to The Kite Runner.
Tell us about your latest book, Jalebi.
Jalebi is a photography tome that was shot by Laurence Ellis, with styling from Riccardo Maria Chiacchio, casting by Troy Casting and art direction by Jaime Perlman. The book explores Southall, where I visited regularly as a child, and features imagined scenarios inspired by childhood memories as well as more documentary-style images. You'll also find family photos from the Ahluwalia archive and an interview with my maternal nana.
What's so special about Southall?
It's the biggest Punjabi community in the UK, so it's full of nuances and hybrids that happen when two cultures come together. It's such a fun and lively area.
What does winning the 2020 LVMH Prize - and sharing it with seven other designers - mean to you?
It was such an honour to even be in the competition; I've been following it since its inception. I was looking forward to meeting the judges but I think sharing the prize was a really supportive decision.
Priya's Pocket Guide to Southall, London
There are so many great places to eat in Southall. I love ordering traditional chaat (an Indian street food) in Rita's Curry House and would recommend getting some hot and fresh jalebi (a sugary, deep-fried sweet) from Jalebi Junction.
Try a fresh lassi from Moti Mahal or, if you have a really sweet tooth, Chandni Chowk's falooda (a drink-cum-dessert made of vermicelli noodles and ice cream, blended with seeds, nuts, rose and khus syrup).
Southall is such a vibrant area, so the first thing I'd suggest you "do" on arrival is take it all in, simply by people-watching and window-shopping. When it comes to actual shopping, the bazaars of Southall Market are full of interesting and obscure things.
There are plenty of places you can get reasonably priced, custom-made pieces. I love this because tailor-made clothing always feels more precious and you're more likely to cherish it. My family and I have often been to Monga's and Omega.