In Photos: Untold stories of Black British fashion and style

In Photos: Untold stories of Black British fashion and style
The little-known history of how Black British designers revolutionised fashion – and modern Britain along the way.

As the 1970s took hold, a new generation of Brits of African and Caribbean descent emerged at the vanguard of fashion, film, music, literature, and art, forging a revolution that would redefine culture and style forevermore.

It is here that The Missing Thread: Untold Stories of Black British Fashion begins, weaving the little-know history of Black British fashion over half a century into a majestic tapestry of creativity, originality, and innovation. Curated by the Black Oriented Legacy Development Agency (BOLD), the exhibition looks at style within a sociopolitical framework to explore the ways in which nightlife, performance, tailoring, and home have shaped the distinctive silhouettes of the past 50 years.

“In the exhibition we aim to show how fine artists, experimental film makers, ballet dancers, couture fashion designers, novelists and so on, are as integral to Black British culture as grime artists, DJs, and athletes. We’re interested in how all those facets of Black culture are linked and come from shared sensibilities,” says Jason Jules, who co-curated the exhibition alongside BOLD partners Andrew Ibi and Harris Elliott.

Bianca Saunders 'YELLOW’ SS20 campaign. Shot and Styled by Ronan McKenzie

The Missing Thread opens with a late ‘70s photograph of 10 young fashion designers, all of whom had studied in St Martins School of Fashion, including Bruce Oldfield, Rifat Ozbek, Ninivah Keomo, John Galliano and Joe Casely-Hayford OBE — whose work forms the culmination of the exhibition and the first major staging from the late designer’s archive.

“Joe was one of the main impetuses for the entire show,” Jules say of Casely-Hayford (1956–2019), whose subversive take on Savile Row sensibilities revolutionised menswear and brought devotees including Lou Reed, the Clash and U2.

“His work explored political resistance, Afrofuturism, Black love, music as a unifying force, sportswear, traditional tailoring, sustainability and recycling, introducing these ideas ahead of everyone else but rarely received credit or recognition. He progressed despite lack of support from institutions within the British fashion industry in ways that only affirmed his creative talent even more.”

Joe Casely-Hayford, 1987 © Kevin Davies

Casely-Hayford’s four-decades cast a wide arc across The Missing Thread. The exhibition also features a wealth of documentary, portrait, and fashion photographs that provide a deeper look at the way images shaped identity, expression, and community.

Included in the show are Raphael Albert’s photos from the Miss Black and Beautiful pageants; Armet Francis’s legendary 1970s fashion shoots on the streets of Brixton; Jennie Baptiste’s photographs of the Dancehall scene; and Pogus Caesar’s photographs of the 1985 Handsworth Riots, sparked by tensions between the police and the Black and Asian communities in the West Midlands.

“The exhibition is intentionally cross-generational; we have designers and artists whose work speak of the past respond to the times in which they were made, and we also have emerging artists who tap into a rich shared resource of Black British culture brought into existence by previous designers, artists and subcultures,” says Jules.

“What's interesting is that for many of the younger artists, identity seems less of a battleground than it does or rather was for their predecessors. That's in part because they're building on the foundations laid by those predecessors and battles won by them.”

The Morgan Stanley Exhibition- The Missing Thread: Untold Stories of Black British Fashion is on view until January 7, 2024, at Somerset House in London.

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