Bianca Saunders AW19 presentation
As guests ascended into the bedroom-like setting for Bianca Saunders‘ AW19 presentation, an interesting mix of ethnically-diverse models awaited them on mattresses that were laid out on the floor, and sitting on pitch-black wooden stools.
After showcasing her previous collection with a cast of exclusively black models in well-tailored casual wear, Saunders’ latest collection was another take on the ever-continuous process of growing comfortable with yourself, in your own skin and clothes. “AW19 is still part of the same conversation about body language.”, she explains. “This time, however, I focused on the location where these conversations take place.”
The winner of the Sophie Hallette lace competition, Saunders used her AW19 collection to show off her masterful skills through delicate crochet vests layered over mid-transparent long-sleeves, voluminous trench coats with raised, pointy collars and chocolate brown leather blousons.
With only one collection under her belt, the London-born and based designer was declared as “One to Watch” by NEWGEN. The recent graduate, who absolved her Master degree in Menswear Design at the prestigious Royal College of Art, is known to use the exploration of her personal surrounding as well as her Western Indian heritage as the base of her work.
When asked about her message, Saunders explained that “when you think of a term like dandyism, you think of someone like Mick Jagger and I think there is not an image like that made for black guys as much. I want it to be less about sexuality and just about people dressing for who they are.”
You’ve made it your mission to empower young, black men. What does your research process look like in relation to this mission?
I enjoy the research process and document it thoroughly so I can return to it over and over again and dig deeper into it. I usually choose the film medium or voice notes to record my research process, but sometimes I simply rely on my memory. My process developed during my time studying for my Master degree at The Royal College of Art. My research was very personal and based on conversations I had with my male friends. I believe that talking is the key to empowerment as you learn to understand self-expression and your social position through discussions. It allows you to find a balance between that knowledge and it not letting define you. I always make sure my male friends understand that our conversations don’t need to suit the needs of what my work is about. Their masculinity is personal to them so I try to be mindful of that when diving into my research. I also don’t think that it’s my mission to empower young, black men overall – it’s about the exploration of my particular surroundings. Not every black male will relate to the type of black masculinity I am trying to show. It’s about my friends, most of whom are creative, very open-minded and exposed to a lot of things while growing up in London. Their self-expression will be different from other black males who aren’t part of this specific creative scene.
As a young, black woman, why did you choose to focus on empowering black men rather than women?
I am black and I do menswear. It’s a big part of my identity. However, I think my brand is empowering women as well, as it’s still seen as unusual for a woman designer to create menswear. I also no longer think menswear and womenswear are that far apart. The clothes I make are very much ‘me’, too, and the way I dress has merged into a more masculine persona. I feel like my clothes speak to everyone; the themes I portray touch upon body language, feeling uncomfortable or being in-between masculinity and femininity. I really love how my collections developed and have taken on a bigger meaning than I initially expected.
Backstage at Bianca Saunders AW19 presentation
Your designs are classed as menswear, even though you’ve talked about how you doubt whether we have to define ourselves as one gender. How do you personally relate to your designs?
Women have been wearing men’s clothes for years now – it’s not anything new. I know plenty of men who wear womenswear pieces. It’s not necessarily a dress; it can also be a pair of trousers. That’s what I really understand when it comes to merging gender: we do not have to define ourselves on the spectrum of how masculine or feminine you are. Sadly, the way our society is set up, you’re almost made to pick a side anyway.
You’ve spoken in previous interviews about growing up in a family that takes pride in their appearance. How do you think fashion can help us with the experience to get more comfortable in our own skin?
How you look plays a big part in how you feel. I think that fashion in 2019 has improved so much as there are so many brands that people can relate to and dress in to empower themselves. One example is that there are a lot of brands that cater to different shapes and sizes now.
For SS19, you chose to focus on the body language and physical presence of young, black men. What are your themes for AW19?
AW19 is still part of the same conversation about body language. This time, however, I focused on the location of where these conversations take place. I thought a bedroom is probably the place where you would be the most honest version of yourself, where you’re able to fully express yourself. AW19 is based on the idea of unravelling. I’ve done further research by interviewing my male friends in their bedrooms, and added a second part to my research film ‘Personal Politics’.
Could you talk us through your collaborators for your most recent collection?
For AW19, I collaborated with a friend and former classmate from The Royal College of Art, Ceinor Sadler, to develop some knitwear pieces. She has previously done menswear, specifically looking at the idea of feminism in menswear. I think this is where we really connected and why it was so easy for us to work together.
What’s next for Bianca Saunders?
More collections! I’m so excited for what’s yet to come. I just want people to see more of the clothes as I don’t think I’ve shown my full potential as a designer yet.
All photos © Eve Power, Bianca Saunders AW19 presentation
Interview by Valeria Wiwinius / Published 10 January 2019