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Essential Moments From ‘A Missing Thread: Untold Stories From Black British Fashion’ At Somerset House

Somerset House presents a unique new exhibition uncovering the hidden narratives of Black British fashion, covering from the 1970s to today. Curated by the Black Oriented Legacy Development Agency (BOLD), the show explores the profound impact of Black style and creativity on the fashion world through music, photography, art, and design. We’ve distilled the exhibition’s standout moments—a must-see for your October plans.


The exhibition begins by uncovering the cross-cultural roots of Black British style, emphasising family and community support against racism. The home serves as a hub for connecting with global heritage and a sanctuary for nurturing families. However, the 1970s and 1980s saw a surge in anti-immigrant sentiment and racism, worsened by the National Front during Thatcher’s era—a stark awakening.
Pogus Caesar’s documentation of the 1985 Handsworth Riots is a notable moment. Triggered by tensions between local Black and Asian communities and the police, Caesar’s work vividly captures the events, highlighting the intensity of the confrontation amidst far-right extremism, poverty, unemployment, and political turmoil in Birmingham at that time.

“How could a tiny spark turn into such a gigantic flame?” – Pogus Caesar, reflecting on the Handsworth Riots in Birmingham, 1985, UK

Also, don’t miss Faisal Abdu’Allah’s artwork here, “I Wanna Kill Sam Cause he Ain’t My Motherfucking Uncle,” rendered in acrylic on aluminium, originally from 1993 (reprinted in 2023). This unapologetic piece confronts our perceptions of power, race, masculinity, and stereotypes, offering a timeless and authentic representation of Black fashion culture.


In the second room, tailoring emerges as a statement of defiance, aspiration, and pride. Black Britons utilised tailoring to craft their unique cultural expressions and define their own style identities. For fashion enthusiasts, this is where the exhibition comes alive.

This section celebrates tailoring as an art form, revealing how it served as both a form of armour to uphold boundaries and a means to challenge racist stereotypes, particularly for Black men. As Black communities evolved their outlooks, tailoring also became a tool for self-expression and liberation.

Just as a master tailor hones their distinctive style, the pursuit of success and progress shaped both collective and individual consciousness, giving rise to fresh visual languages and transformative Black identities.

Admire a show stopping red crepe dress here, crafted by pioneering Black designer Bruce Oldfield and once worn by Princess Diana. His work embodies potential and challenges preconceptions, serving as a testament to cultural diversity. Also, take a moment to appreciate the tailored puffer jackets by acclaimed designer Monisola Omotoso and the 2009 England football kit by third-generation tailor Charlie Allen. Vanley Burke’s photography also masterfully showcases Black Britons’ tailored style in this room, with a particularly captivating piece captured in Handsworth, Birmingham, once again.


The Performance section showcases the achievements of Black performers, exploring the notion of ‘being seen’ and its impact. Covering dance, fashion, music, and film, these performances not only influence cultural expressions but also shape social, political, and cultural identities, leaving a significant imprint on British culture.

In the past, Black individuals were under constant scrutiny—from neighbours, police, media, and the public. This unrelenting surveillance emerged from the aftermath of Thatcherism, during which Black Britons introduced the first British version of contemporary street style, intimately linked to Black music and culture.

Individuals charged with the burden of representation are often touted as trailblazing or ground-breaking.

In perhaps the most eclectic space in the exhibition, you can explore street style pieces by Kervin Marc, delve into the iconic 1998 book “Sneakers: Size Isn’t Everything” by Milk, admire portraits of Black beauty queens lensed by Raphael Albert, witness the 90s style through photography by Cynthia Lawrence-John, and view a vintage Sound System meticulously restored by The Mighty Ruler—the best of London’s engineers.


The exhibition also pays tribute to the late Joe Caseley-Hayford OBE, who passed away in 2019. It brings us unseen studio material and pieces from the designer’s influential collections.
Across four decades, the designer transformed menswear, gaining a cult following for his subversive Savile Row approach. He not only pushed fashion boundaries but also challenged social norms, weaving intricate narratives around fluid British cultural identities. Boasting a dedicated fan base, including Lou Reed, The Clash, and U2, he later partnered with his son Charlie to launch the Casely-Hayford label, carrying on his legacy of modern tailoring from its Marylebone store to this day.


‘The Missing Thread: Untold Stories From Black British Fashion’ serves as a vibrant celebration, a timely political statement, and an overdue acknowledgment of the impact the Black community has had on UK style. While the exhibition pays homage to the past, it equally beckons us to the future. Present-day taste-makers like Bianca Saunders, Nicholas Daley, and Saul Nash also offer highlights to appreciate, and a beacon of hope, inspiring confidence in what lies ahead for British fashion.

On until the 7th of January 2024 at Somerset House, London


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