London exhibition highlights untold stories of Black British fashion designers


A red silk crepe dress worn by Princes Diana, designed by designer Bruce Oldfield, is displayed during a preview of the exhibition 'The Missing Thread: Untold Stories Of Black British Fashion'. Photo: AP

A new exhibition has opened in London to chart for the first time the contributions that Black British culture made to UK fashion and design history and to celebrate Black designers who haven't received public recognition.

The Missing Thread: Untold Stories Of Black British Fashion (running until Jan 7, 2023)at central London's Somerset House pays tribute to the influence of Black designers in fashion from the 1970s.

But it also spotlights the racism and other barriers they faced in an industry that remains difficult to break into for people of colour.

Curators said that the idea of a display celebrating Black fashion and culture has germinated for some time.

Read more: Designer Coco Chanel's influential fashion on show at London exhibit

But it was only after the 2020 death of George Floyd at the hands of US police – and the global eruption of protests against racial injustice that was triggered – that momentum gathered for a show that also features broader social and political context, such as the rise of anti-immigration sentiment and overt racism in Britain in the 1970s and 80s.

"Even if you have heard of these designers, people have no idea of the trials and tribulations they went through,” said Harris Elliott, one of the exhibition's curators.

The exhibition opens with an entrance made to look like a small house built with colourful measuring tape.

Elliott, who created the installation, said that the house symbolised the fragility of hopes and dreams experienced by early Caribbean migrants to the UK, many of whom were skilled tailors but were ignored once they arrived in Britain.

"You come as a tailor, you end up working in a factory or working on a bus,” Elliott said.

A black union jack shawl, Madhatter crown hat and Rudie coat designed by London-based art collective Art Comes First, are displayed during a preview of the exhibition. Photo: APA black union jack shawl, Madhatter crown hat and Rudie coat designed by London-based art collective Art Comes First, are displayed during a preview of the exhibition. Photo: AP

One success story was Bruce Oldfield, the veteran couture designer who worked closely with Princess Diana and, more recently, made Queen Camilla's coronation gown.

Oldfield was one of the first visible Black designers in the UK in the 70s and 80s, and the exhibition featured a glamorous red silk embroidered dress worn by Diana in 1987.

But Oldfield – who had a Jamaican father – is rarely referenced as a Black designer, and has never championed Black culture.

A big portion of the exhibition is dedicated to the work of Joe Casely-Hayford, a leading Black fashion designer in the 80s and 90s who is largely unknown or forgotten in mainstream fashion history.

Read more: Fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg celebrated in Brussels museum exhibition

The designer, who worked with U2, inspired a generation of Black Britons and should have received the same recognition as better-known designers like Paul Smith and Vivienne Westwood, curators said.

Andrew Ibi, another of the show's curators, said that he hoped the exhibition will inspire more young Black people to enter the creative industries.

"If you don't see people like you, well then you don't think you can do that. And that was largely a problem for Black designers at the time,” Ibi said.

"We hope this exhibition acts as a legacy for young people who see it and say, ‘Look at this rich culture, I can do what I want, I can be an artist, photographer, designer.'" – AP

Subscribe now to our Premium Plan for an ad-free and unlimited reading experience!

fashion , exhibit , diversity , London


Next In Style

Princess Diana's 'revenge' dress and other 'The Crown' fashion props up for sale
Don't fear having grey hair, try the blending method to enhance its look
Guinness World Records names 100-year-old Japanese woman 'oldest beauty adviser'
Luxury fashion house heir becomes Switzerland's wealthiest with RM223bil
Want to enhance your looks without using heavy makeup? Try the 'demi method'
Now a style icon, Malaysian artiste Alvin Chong aims to go global with his music
As well as making a warming drink, tea bags can be used to repair broken nails
Vanity Fare: Soothing skin solutions in the form of creams and serums
An ode to beauty and delicacy
The latest beauty fad on social media is using makeup to look like a robot

Others Also Read