The RCA graduate dissects notions of black masculinity with her latest collection and film
“My dad likes expensive shoes and quality coats. I always looked up to his style,” says menswear designer Bianca Saunders. “My whole family pride themselves on looking good at all times. How they chose to present themselves was an early inspiration.” This young Londoner grew up among a large Jamaican family and now integrates a British inner city aesthetic with West Indian culture to create clothes that explore hybrid identities and challenge the hyper masculine stereotypes that so often surround representations of black men.
Saunders studied fashion at Kingston University, where she won the Sophie Hallette lace competition (thanks to her Great Aunt Mavis’s fishnet curtains), then moved onto the Menswear MA at the Royal College of Art, graduating this year. “It had to be there,” she says of her choice. “Astrid Anderson, Liam Hodges, Thomas J Price and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye – all of whom I admire - are alumni and the process they teach you at the college is to create a world around your design process.”
During the course she started to delve into different identities and interview those around her in the community. “I felt there was a gap in the images you see about black masculinity – either they’re these young guys or superstars. In a way masculinity is fictional, it’s a social concept and black males are constantly questioned. Like, if you wear a gold earring it means you’re gay, or if you wear pink you're sensitive. I wanted to look at how you can be masculine but also embody elements of femininity, in order to create another spectrum.”
By fusing traditional tailoring with streetwear and elements of draping more familiar to womenswear, her highly detailed graduate collection, named after Lord Kitchener’s calypso classic, London Is The Place For Me, forms a narrative about the capital’s cultural exchange from the Windrush to Brexit.
Saunders has gone on to debut her fully formed collection, Personal Politics, which shows off her research-driven, multi disciplinary approach incorporating fashion, printed matter, sound and film. The body of work continues to resonate around these themes and peel away the layers, from the concept of Dandyism to the messages of Moonlight via her family’s photo albums. Styling and detailing speaks volumes. Simple cotton t-shirts have a drawstring and tracksuit bottoms have side zips, so the wearer can decide how much to expose. Blazers are worn over bare chests and elongated jersey joggers. Netted sleeves and vests are attached with bondage straps. And puffa jackets encase the body wholeheartedly. Meanwhile her accompanying zine features work by Seye Isikalu, Caleb Femi and James Massiah.
She expressed the collection fully with a one-day exhibition at London’s Ace Hotel. Its club space housed the lookbook shoot by Adama Jalloh and screenings of the film Permission by Nataal favourite Akinola Davies Jr. It follows a cast of young men embracing their shared vulnerability and trust as they journey through the concrete streets. “It was important for me to have a gaze behind the camera who understood the guy we’re taking about and being on set with Akin was very rewarding for me,” she says of the collaboration. “Some people have told me they have cried while watching it. There’s real emotion in the film.”
Saunders currently has showroom support from 1 Granary and is working toward a presentation next year. Most of all though, she wants to keep this important conversation going. “It’s a tough subject to cover and it can be offensive to some, but I hope I can help people see things differently. I want to continue to focus on what I have to say.”
Photography Adama Jalloh
Styling PC Williams
Hair Kasey Prempeh
Grooming Martina Lattanzi
Models Guido Ghatti, Kareem Reid, Maurice West Forbes
Film Akinola Davies Jr
Music Inner Child by Yassi
Director of photography Jack Wells
Producer Julie Vergez
Styling KK Obi
Words Helen Jennings
Visit Bianca Saunders