Mulberry x Ahluwalia is not your typical collaboration. In fact, when the British heritage brand got in touch with the young menswear star, Priya Ahluwalia was wary. What could a traditional leather goods company want from a trailblazing London designer, whose work celebrates her Indian – Nigerian heritage and amplifies marginalised voices? Mulberry, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary year by spotlighting contemporary design, invited the bright creative to share her fresh perspective on the fashion world. The result is an impressive step forward for both a big and a small fish in an industry currently looking inwards to make important changes.
It was a daunting prospect to being with. ‘It’s scary to bring up these conversation in a room full of people’, admits Priya, who founded her namesake brand in 2018 and recently won the LVMH Prize. ‘I’m trying to produce work that is inclusive, positive and provokes conversation. I needed to feel like I could be myself and be frank with what I think is important. It became empowering quickly (to learn) that the team was very open to my opinion.’
The capsule of Portobello totes and organic silk scarves is about more than just great accessories. From the patchworked wave prints and braid sitching inspired by corn – rowed Black hair to the Afro comb badges rooted in protest symbols, each limited – edition pierce has the artistry and rituals of Afro – Caribbean hair sewn into its seams. Priya has been fascinated by hair as a form of expression since she grew up watching Missy Elliott and Aaliyah videos on MTC Base and Channel U. Those queens feature on the voracious researcher’s moodboards, alongside vintage barber shop poster, Bollywood film shots, ’60s and ’70s protest pictures and nightclub references. As well as a powerful ode to Black experiences, she wanted the collection to have a sexy, mysterious vibe.
‘I was thinking about the kind of bag you need to go to the club’, she shares of channelling hot Ibizan summers into her youth – centric Portobellos, which come in multiple sizes. ‘When I go out I only want my essentials’. The mini, made out of leftover Mulberry leather in line with both brands’ progressive sustainability policies, is Priya’s favourite. Receiving swatches and samples of the vibrant leather made new through the unique wave patterns took Priya back to her days leafing through the soft leather bags at the Mulberry concession in Bentalls, where she worked when she was younger. Her mum’s Mulberry bags were soon on her arm as a fashion – forward teen, and so the silhouettes felt familiar for her first foray into the handbag market.
While Priya takes forward the expertise of the Somerset factory artisans, Mulberry has signed up to the Halo Code, a guide to protect the hairstyles associated with racial, ethnic and cultural identities. A visually arresting ans socially significant film, presented during London Fahion Week on 14 June, also delivers an important message. ‘I hope people who have isecurities about having Afro – Carribean hair, or not having Eurocentric or white hair, get a drop of confidence or feel special or celebrates’, the designer says of using her voice. If other companies see this collaboration as an example of true inclusivity, or one individual feels strong and confident wearing a colorful Mulberry X Ahluwalia bag, it will be a success. ‘It sounds so dramatic because I’m just a clothes designer, but how can we make this world we live in better and more supportive?’ she asks. ‘I’m really happy’.