Capturing a long-awaited portrait of Black British fashion, Somerset House’s new, poignant exhibition, The Missing Thread, delves into the shifting landscape and profound influence of Black British culture and the unique contribution it has made to the country’s fashion arena.
The Missing Thread brings Black creativity into focus, redressing its “forgotten’ brilliance and commemorating the lasting impact of an generally unseen generation of trailblazing Black creatives who were denied access to the industry or who, despite their successes, remain misrepresented, excluded and ignored.
Curated by the Black Orientated Legacy Development Agency (BOLD) – run by Harris Elliott, Andrew Ibi and Jason Jules – it weaves together the narrative through four distinct themes – home, tailoring, performance and nightlife. Contextualised within a socio-political framework, rather than viewing fashion as something created in isolation, each theme refers to the spaces that not only allowed, but inspired the culture of Black British fashion and design to develop in its own way and on its own terms.
Spanning from the 1970s to the present day, garments and artefacts enter into a spirited dialogue. Music, art, memorabilia, videos and installations chart a historic lineage of Black talent and major moments in British history. Extending far beyond the confounds of a catwalk, artists and designers including Chris Ofili, Eddie Chambers, Maud Sulter, Ozwald Boateng, Faisal Abdu’Allah, Bruce Oldfield, Ninivah Khomo, Monisola Omotoso, Christine Checinska and Keith Piper.
Writer and curator Angela Phillips created a short film, “Cuyah [Koo‐yah]: Look Here”, especially for The Missing Thread which explores the facets of street style, jungle, garage and dancehall cultures, and the psychedelic undertones of the ’90s rave scene. There are also accounts of remarkable achievements published in the national press plastered across the walls, but in the face of reality, appeared alongside harrowing reports of political and social violence. Then, a series of original commissions by decorated contemporary Black designers like BFC/GQ Designer Fashion Fund recipient Nicholas Daley, Forbes’ 30-Under-30 and ANDAM Award-winning Bianca Saunders, and International Woolmark Prize-winner Saul Nash, celebrate the generational lineage of Black excellence in fashion.
As the exhibition nears its end, some 30 looks from the elegant archive of the late Joe Casely-Hayford who died in 2019. Spotlighting his peerless genius as one of Britain’s most influential Black fashion tastemakers, the magnificent constructions are unveiled with a special, dedicated room.
Photography courtesy of Somerset House. ‘The Missing Thread: Untold Stories of Black British Fashion’ is running at Somerset House in the East Wing galleries from September 21, 2023, to January 7, 2024.