Browns Focus: Bianca Saunders
A loose-fitting shirt adorned with a soft-hued image of her mother on a Jamaican beach in the 70s. A distorted retro tourist tee design on a grown up clean-cut sweater. Everyone loves nostalgia. But for menswear designer Bianca Saunders, her reverence for the past fosters a universal sense of familiarity, despite the personal nature of her stories.
Many of her thought-provoking collections are inspired by either her own history or the shared culture of the Black diaspora. Past collections have been accompanied by films directed by BAFTA-nominated director Akinola Davies Jr and a zine with photographer Joshua Woods and Browns contributor Jess Cole, projects which delve further into the themes from her designs. “Fashion shouldn’t feel like a throwaway moment,” she says, explaining why she uses her work as a jumping-off point to start more conversations. Her collaboration with Browns - titled “The Tourist” - follows suit, seeing the 28-year-old creating a love letter to family trips away (remember those?) and treasured moments of peace. Working with Gabriel Moses, a photographer whose collaborators include Nike, Off-White, and adidas, she creates an atmospheric photo story, leading us on a journey through both of their childhoods, and memories of maternal comfort and rest. Below, Bianca and Gabriel tell us more.
How did you both become aware of each other’s work?
Gabriel: Photographer/ director Daniel Sannwald has been a mentor for me over the past year. He shot something for Bianca a few months back, and so from then we were on each other’s radar.
Bianca: Then I messaged [Gabriel] because I really wanted to work with him. I always want to work with people who have a documentary style to their photography. I saw the work you did with Pa Salieu for Dazed and I loved that image with the bird.
How did you come up with the concept for the collection?
Bianca: Whenever you see anything about like Caribbean tourism it’s always bright and garish colours, but a lot of the images are quite toned down and muted. That fed into the colour palette. Browns customers are more relaxed so I took a different approach to tailoring. I played with kitsch elements so you have a tourist t-shirt with a typical logo but I’ve added distortion. [Elsewhere] I’ve taken elements from what my family impressed on me growing up, like the importance of always being well-presented; clothes being extra pressed and extra pleated.
So we know what inspired the collection but what inspired the striking photo story?
Gabriel: I’m adding my own twist to all the things I’ve seen, so everything is connected to my roots and my past. Growing up, my mum would never let me sleep with the lights off so I’d always have a lamp on in my bedroom. So when I began taking photos I really liked the idea of shapes and colours coming out of blackness. It’s become a huge feature in a lot of my work and I tend to apply it to pretty much everything I do.
I’m a huge fan of the work of West African photographers and artists like Malick Sidibé and the way he captured pop culture in Mali during the 60s. It reminds me of the images I would see of my grandparents in Nigeria, so I love capturing studio portraits and having textured walls similar to what you’d find back home.
Both of you use nostalgia as a creative tool. Why is that something that inspires you?
Gabriel: Photography isn’t something I learned in school. All I have is my passion and my environment. My sister had ripped out pictures of Dazed and Vogue, and we had lots of my mum’s photos from when she was younger. I’d look at the way things were shot - there’s a beauty to it that she takes for granted.
Bianca: I always put my memories into my research and design. It’ll be like: “I was talking about this with my mum the other day,” or ‘this is what my dad liked when he was younger.” My family are people who like good quality stuff, they’re expensive people when it comes to gifts and they say things like: “a good pair of shoes and a good jacket is the basis of your wardrobe”, and if you think about my work there is always a strong jacket. Then I bring forward my personality and my femininity and how to merge that with menswear.
Does your affinity for the past and love of paying homage to your roots make it easy to collaborate together?
Bianca: Yeah, what I like about Gabriel is that his photography is not very obvious. He showed me some pictures he did in Nigeria and I liked that there was a mystery behind them. It wasn't what people think Nigeria should look like. There should be multiple views of how we all see the world, and we should be free to expand the image and the ideas around Blackness.
Gabriel: We’re both on the same wavelength and it was great that Bianca could understand my vision, as I still feel like I’m introducing myself to the fashion world.
Kemi-Olivia Alemoru is the culture editor at Gal Dem. Her work has also appeared in Dazed, Vogue, and The Guardian.
Discover more from Browns Focus: Series One here.
Designer/Creative Director: Bianca Saunders
Photographer: Gabriel Moses
Stylist/Creative Consultant: Karen Binns
Producer: Chiara Lafour
Make-Up Artist: Joey Choy
Hair Stylist: Yvonne Saunders
Casting Director: Najia Li Saad
Set Design: Jade Adeyemi
Model: Pivot Aurel
Movement Director: Abdourahman Njie
Lighting Technician: Darren Karl Smith
Post Production: Purple Martin
Photographer’s Producer: Liberty Dye
Make-Up Artist’s Assistant: Maiko Iwashita
Set Design Assistant: Rita Ade
Intern/Production Assistant: Emily Clarke
Intern/Styling Assistant: Georbella Fini
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