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The contributions of the UK’s many inventive and pioneering Black British designers shouldn’t go as unrecognised as they often still are – which is why a new exhibition that has just opened at London’s Somerset House could be such a crucial corrective.
The show in question, entitled The Missing Thread: Untold Stories of Black British Fashion, opened on 21st September in the Neoclassical complex’s East Wing Galleries, and will continue through to 7th January 2024.
The exhibition is the curatorial work of the Black Oriented Legacy Development Agency (BOLD), and – in the words of the venue itself – “charts the shifting landscape of Black British culture and the unique contribution it has made to Britain’s rich design history.”
What can visitors expect to see?
Another claim that Somerset House has made in relation to the exhibition, is that it extends “far beyond the realm of the catwalk”, also addressing such prominent and influential mediums for Black creativity in the UK as music, photography, art, and design.
This all-encompassing perspective on Black British culture is very much reflected in the visitor experience. Four distinct themes are used to help tell the story of Black creativity – namely home, tailoring, performance, and nightlife – in reference to the variety of spaces that helped enable the flourishing of Black British fashion and design on their own terms.
Enthusiasts and students of fashion design will, of course, be enchanted by the variety of garments on display. However, these are also put into important context by accompanying cultural artefacts, artworks, music, memorabilia, installations, and videos.
A key point of focus for the exhibition is the career of one of the UK’s most influential Black fashion designers, the late Joe Casely-Hayford, who passed away in 2019. The Missing Thread marks the first time the designer’s archive has been presented in a museum format in the UK.
Accompanying this showcase are a number of original commissions by contemporary Black designers, including Nicholas Daley, Saul Nash, and Bianca Saunders, who demonstrate that the lineage of Black creative greatness in Britain remains a formidable one.
There’s still more that can be done to put the spotlight on Black British creativity
Quoted by The Guardian in an article coinciding with the show’s launch, Daley said that although he had seen the fashion industry take great strides with regard to diversity and representation over the decade since his graduation, “there’s still work to be done for my generation to keep pushing it, whether in the form of a runway show or exhibition.”
He continued: “There are a lot of Black British designers and creatives and photographers and artists who have not been recognised, given the space or accolades, for many years.”
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