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The Missing Thread: Black British Fashion Odyssey at Somerset House

  • Culture

By Leila Uddin, BSc Politics, Philosophy and Economics

“Our artistic direction for the project has also been shaped by the poignant and sometimes painful conversations that we have had during the course of our research.”

Take part in unravelling the narratives, celebrating resilience and innovation, challenging historical limitations, and defining a new era in the realm of fashion and art. Experience a transformative journey at Somerset House, where the intersection of fashion and art converges to illuminate the distinct contributions of Black British artists and designers. Curated by the Black Oriented Legacy Development Agency (BOLD), ‘The Missing Thread’ exhibition is not merely a spotlight held on the historical misrepresentation within the fashion industry when it comes to the work of Black creators; it’s a profound exploration of brazen identity and limitless creativity. Threads of self-expression intertwine with the rich cultural tapestry of Black British heritage to explore how much Black style and artistry has seeped into British culture.

The viewer is taken on an expedition through different media formats divided into four main sections, beginning with ‘Home’, which deals with the sensation of community and the relationship between Black and British identity. It then spirals into ‘Tailoring’, which includes apparel, accessories and the concept of projecting a certain image. All of that is integrated into ‘Performance’, as well as incorporating the significance of how one is perceived, with a focus on the individual’s identity and the collective’s cultural influence. The final segment, ‘Nightlife’, examines how fashion and club culture intersect through vibrant visuals and stories of freedom and expression. Style and design are shown to have been passed down through the generations, with each generation alternately interpreting that as common as thread has been over time, it continues to flourish into something new and endlessly creative.

“Our artistic direction for the project has also been shaped by the poignant and sometimes painful conversations that we have had during the course of our research,” says BOLD. Indeed, as is the case outside of the creative sphere, it has long been the narrative that Black voices and contributions are deliberately pushed to the fringes or overlooked. As you enter the exhibit, a wall of black and white newspaper clippings sing the untold triumphs of Black musicians, artists, activists and designers – even the first Black newscaster for the BBC, Moira Stuart. The appraisal of Black achievements over the years highlighted at Somerset House, which aims to foster linkages between fresh ideas and their roots on an intellectual and cultural level, is certainly refreshing. 

Whether it is a coincidence that ‘The Missing Thread’ opened right off the back of London Fashion Week is up to the viewer – the exhibition stands as a candid critique of the barriers that still permeate the fashion industry to this day when it comes to creators of colour aiming to make their mark. ‘The Missing Thread’ is a vibrant testament to how far the world has come, whilst also taking the time to celebrate those designers and artists of the past who may not have received their flowers upon debut. 

The different rooms are a spectacle in themselves – the nightlife section, in particular, immerses viewers in neon colours that contrast with black and white images in a room divided by stereos, speakers, jukebox sets and fragments of abandoned radios. A listening centre plays Nicholas Daley’s playlist, cultivating the ambience within the manicure salon; the walls embellished with magazine covers and photographic art add even more detail to the club culture motif. ‘The Missing Thread’ notably honours the creative genius of the late Joe Casely-Hayford, who was among the most significant Black fashion designers in Britain, by showcasing the designer’s archive in an exhibition format for the first time in the country – a well-earned and long overdue illustration of his creative achievements. Finally, an array of unique commissions from modern Black designers, including Nicholas Daley, Bianca Saunders, and Saul Nash, honour the generational legacy of Black creative brilliance in British fashion to round off the show of excellence and creativity. 

‘The Missing Thread’ is undoubtedly worth a visit – from the 1970s to the present day, the viewer is taken on an interactive, stimulating journey through the rise of Black expression and our understanding of Black creatives’ contribution to fashion. Morgan Stanley’s exhibit at Somerset House chronicles the unwavering spirit of successive generations who carved languages, styles, and movements that continue to resonate in the brilliance of contemporary Black British designers. 

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