Fit for a Queen: Priya Ahluwalia wins Queen Elizabeth II Award for British design

priya ahluwalia

Words by Jason Kwame

The news that Priya Ahluwalia won the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design last week topped off what was a successful – virtual, yet successful – London Fashion Week. 

It’s a no-brainer Ahluwalia is well deserving of the award. Being a Brit, of Nigerian, Indian and Caribbean descent, her background has been an integral part of the DNA of her namesake menswear brand. She’s never been shy in her research, looking into matters of immigration to the UK in the 60s for example, the heightened political tensions at the time…even down to the textiles of those days.

The award, created for designers innovating through “sustainable practices or community engagement” perfectly describes her brand and creative approach. Her collections advocate forward-thinking sustainability “at its heart”, which perhaps came from her resourcefulness in her early days. “Students are naturally resourceful…it’s about applying those natural skills to gather materials.”

The brand’s reuse of materials help to relive the nostalgia of collectors’ deadstock garments, especially from past football mania eras and fanatic culture. Priya taps into a culture embedded in the UK, but with a love shared around the world. One good example of all the moving parts that Priya cohesively brings together: her vintage style football jersey designs, one of her most famous being a striped green and white collared shirt, emblazoned on the front with “NIGERIA” in crystals. It only makes sense that she once described her aesthetic as “Major”

Also, this week, her ‘TRACES’ AW21 collection was stuff of dreams. It brought a much darker, mysterious and mystical palette of designs, taking inspiration from Yaa Gyasi’s HomeGoing to fittingly reflect the idea of “things of the past always follows us around”. Designs incorporated Bamboo silk and graphic repurposed knits, ombre techniques, and a delicate gold afro-comb compass-like insignia. The latter has been unveiled as the brand’s new emblem “which has universal symbolism that transcends place or time…pointing to each of the four corners of the world”. 

As cultured and global as she and her work are inherently, so too are her accolades. Whilst studying for her masters at the University of Westminster in 2019, she won the H&M Design Award, collaborated with Adidas at Paris Fashion Week and had multiple stockists carrying the Ahluwalia brand. It’s as if time itself is working in her favour. March 2020 afforded her a spot on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for European Arts and Culture. Last season gifted her a short film for Gucci Fest. Winning the Queen Elizabeth II Award, then, is icing on a well decorated cake. 

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There’s no telling what’s next for Priya. She recently hinted at branching into womenswear, accessories and home-wear amongst other projects. Going by her track record, we trust that she will.

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