The south London designer championing Personal Politics.
Both residents of south east London, Bianca Saunders and I have arranged to start the week in a coffee shop in Brockley, only it’s closed on Mondays and I’m not sure our emails are syncing so I can’t be sure she received my suggestion for another place around the corner; pretty crap if it’s an indication of how our eventual meeting is going to go. (It’s not.)
One of six siblings born to British-West Indian parents, Saunders did her foundation at Ravensbourne and was originally on track to study Fashion Promotion at Rochester before changing her mind and heading to Kingston for a BA in design, a course she found particularly commercial in its essence. “One girl is at Victoria Beckham, my friend went to Oliver Bonas, someone else is at Tom Ford,” she recites of her classmates’ pathways. “There was never a long term plan to do an MA,” she notes of her own trajectory, “it wasn’t a lifelong dream.”
In June, her Personal Politics collection – and the accompanying presentation which subverted the classic catwalk scenario, bathing models in pink light and asking them to perform, as opposed to strut – was one of the standouts at the Royal College of Art’s MA graduate show, winning praise from Business of Fashion’s Osman Ahmed (who considered that it “in a few minutes had as much beauty as the whole of Moonlight”) and revered menswear critic, Charlie Porter.
“The people I’m around and the conversations that we have and the things that we get up to,” Bianca considers, explaining her primary influences. “At Kingston and the RCA, people weren’t from my background, so it made me find out exactly who I am. That’s kind of reflected on me wanting to explore identity – where that interest comes from, being in those spaces and noticing how different I am from people around me, and questioning the difference of the concepts and ideas within art and fashion.”
The only black student in her year at both colleges, race has since formed the nucleus of Saunders’ work. “Even speaking about it with my peers, some of them didn’t really want to talk about it,” she states, “I feel like, with race, it becomes almost like stepping on eggshells – why is it like that, it should be a casual thing. That’s why I called [the collection] Personal Politics, it’s like the politics within yourself. The majority of people that I hang around with are not going to be able to afford it, when I start selling clothes,” she continues, communicating her awareness of the industry’s limitations, “but I feel like creating a conversation – clothes being the conversation – that’s important.”
Clothes – for her graduate collection meaning white tees redefined with gathers that confuse the standard; sheer vests that nod to interpretations of gender dress; trousers of waterproof texture and exaggerated proportions – are just one part of the Bianca Saunders package. “Most of the time I start by making a film,” she says of her design process. “At the beginning of the term we got told to make two looks, so I made a lm and two looks. It’s funny, my tutors were like, ‘you should’ve just shown the film’.”
Since collaborating with the director Akinola Davies – on a short titled Performance – Saunders has also produced a zine, currently on sale at The ICA: here transcripts of the conversations from which Personal Politics began reside alongside poetry by James Massiah and Abondance Matanda, images by Adama Jalloh a few pages along. “We were in the same photography class but we didn’t speak that much,” she reflects on the latter, “I had her on Facebook, saw her in a magazine and was like ‘shit, what does she do now?’”
Attaching herself to ideas greater than cloth, Bianca Saunders, like the designers she provides as influential – Craig Green and Charles Jeffrey, “Grace Wales Bonner – more for the business side of things” – is a name to be held dear.
Taken from the A/W 17 Issue of Rollacoaster; out now and available to buy here.
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