A groundbreaking exhibition is set to open in London, unveiling the long-overlooked contributions of Black British culture to the history of fashion and design in the U.K.
“The Missing Thread: Untold Stories of Black British Fashion” at Somerset House in central London is poised to celebrate Black designers who have been unjustly denied public recognition while shedding light on the profound impacts of Black designers on the fashion industry, dating back to the 1970s.
The exhibition pays homage to the creative influence of Black designers and underscores the persistent racism and barriers they confronted in an industry that has historically been challenging for people of color to break into.
The idea for an exhibition celebrating Black fashion and culture had been germinating for some time. However, it was the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of U.S. police in 2020 and the subsequent global wave of protests against racial injustice that galvanized momentum for this momentous exhibition.
“The Missing Thread” goes beyond fashion, encompassing broader social and political contexts, including the rise of anti-immigration sentiment and overt racism in Britain during the 1970s and ’80s.
Harris Elliott, one of the exhibition’s curators, emphasized, “Even if you have heard of these designers, people have no idea of the trials and tribulations they went through.” The exhibition begins with an entrance designed to resemble a small house constructed from colorful measuring tape.
Elliott, the mastermind behind this installation, explained that the house symbolizes the fragility of the hopes and dreams held by early Caribbean migrants to the U.K., many of whom were skilled tailors but were marginalized upon their arrival.
Among the highlighted success stories is Bruce Oldfield, a veteran couture designer who collaborated closely with Princess Diana and, more recently, crafted Queen Camilla’s coronation gown.
Oldfield, one of the first visible Black designers in the U.K. during the ’70s and ’80s, is seldom acknowledged as a Black designer and has not actively championed Black culture.
A significant portion of the exhibition is dedicated to the works of Joe Casely-Hayford, a prominent Black fashion designer in the ’80s and ’90s who remains largely unknown or forgotten in mainstream fashion history.
Casely-Hayford, who collaborated with U2, inspired a generation of Black Britons and should have received the same recognition as better-known designers like Paul Smith and Vivienne Westwood, according to the curators.
Andrew Ibi, another curator of the exhibition, expressed hope that it will inspire more young Black individuals to pursue careers in the creative industries. “If you don’t see people like you, you don’t think you can do that.
And that was largely a problem for Black designers then,” Ibi remarked. “We hope this exhibition acts as a legacy for young people who see it and say, ‘Look at this rich culture, I can do what I want; I can be an artist, photographer, designer.'”