The Missing Thread

This new exhibition shines a light on Britain’s Black fashion icons
By Barry Pierce | Art | 24 August 2023

The influence of Black culture on British fashion has, for far too long, been downplayed and basically ignored. This is something the Black Oriented Legacy Development Agency (BOLD) are looking to correct with The Missing Thread, this year’s Morgan Stanley exhibition at Somerset House.

To give it its full title, The Missing Thread: Untold Stories of Black British Fashion, the exhibition sets out to explore the profound influence Black British culture has had on the story of British fashion. Redressing this “forgotten” influence and celebrating the unique visions and impact of a generation of trailblazing Black creatives, the exhibition will be split into five different sections, each tackling a separate facet of the place of Blackness in British fashion.

Eileen Perrier, Untitled 1, Afro Hair and Beauty 1998 © Eileen Perrier

The first section will be themed Home, exploring the intercontinental roots of Black British style and the safety Black Britons found in family, friends and the community when faced with the harsh realities of racism in the UK. Works by artists and designers such as Chris Ofili, Eddie Chambers, and Pogus Caesar will be the central features of this section, both celebrating and challenging the central role of home and the ideas of heritage, memory and identity.

The second part of the exhibition explores Tailoring, not just as an expertise and craft, but also as a statement of defiance, aspiration and pride, practised by Black Britons establishing their own style identity. Significant works by both renowned and unsung designers will features, such as pieces by Bruce Oldfield, Charlie Allen, Wayne Pinnock, and Ozwald Boateng.

Joe Casely-Hayford, i-D Magazine #102, March 1992 The Technology Issue. Photo by Takashi Homma.

The exhibition will then move into Performance, not only spotlighting the achievements of Black performers themselves but breaking down notions of “being seen.” Streetstyle garments from Kervin Marc and Walé Adeyemi and a fully restored vintage Sound System will feature alongside photographs by Raphael Albert, Cynthia Lawrence-John, and Normski.

Nightlife will celebrate the spaces that provided the freedom and opportunity, beyond the boundaries of mainstream cultural status quo, for Black creatives to meet, network and express individual and collective identity safely. Marc Hare, Jennie Baptiste, Eileen Perrier and musicians like Sade and Soul II Soul are celebrated as icons who crossed the divide and soundtracked the Black nightlife scene.

The final part of The Missing Thread will be dedicated solely to the life and work of Joe Casely-Hayford OBE (1956 – 2019). The designer, despite being held in quiet esteem within the fashion world, has not been met with the same recognition as his white peers who have become household names. Over a four-decade career, Casely-Hayford revolutionised menswear, attaining cult status internationally for his subversive Savile Row sensibility and iconic fans including the likes of Lou Reed, The Clash and U2, shaping the visions of generations of designers who have come since.

Bianca Saunders ‘YELLOW’ SS20 campaign. Shot and Styled by Ronan McKenzie.

On top of looking back at the influence of Black designers, the exhibition also looks at the present, and the Black designers who have become some of the most essential names in fashion over the past decade. From Nicholas Daley to Bianca Saunders, Martine Rose and Saul Nash, the exhibition will feature newly-commissioned works from this new wave who continue to shape the fabric of British fashion today.

The Missing Thread: Untold Stories of Black British Fashion will run from 21 September 2023 — 07 January 2024 at Somerset House.


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