A powerful new exhibition at London’s Somerset House, titled “The Missing Thread, Untold Stories of Black Fashion,” sheds light on forgotten voices in Black British culture, from the 1970s to the present, particularly their uncelebrated impact on the fashion industry.
Resilience Amidst Adversity
One compelling image by Jamaican-born photographer Neil Kenlock encapsulates this narrative. It features a young, elegantly dressed Black woman with a small yet determined smile. The graffiti on the adjacent door reads “KEEP BRITAIN WHITE.” Andrew Ibi, one of the exhibition’s curators, notes the resilience that shines through this woman’s immaculate appearance despite the prejudiced surroundings. It’s almost like a uniform of resilience in the face of adversity.
A Three-Year Journey
The curators, Andrew Ibi, Jason Jules, and Harris Elliot, all designers and academics from the Black Orientated Legacy Development Agency (BOLD), spent nearly three years crafting this profound exhibition. For them, “The Missing Thread” transcends mere fashion—it serves as a “trojan horse” to convey a deeper cultural narrative.
More Stories to Tell
While the last decade has seen greater recognition for Black creatives and designers in the fashion industry, such as Law Roach and Chioma Nnadi, the curators felt that untold stories still lingered beneath the surface. Ibi shares personal experiences of disadvantage and disparities, from using his student loan to buy his mother a gas fire for their freezing house to realizing that something systemic was stacked against Black individuals in their journeys.
Unveiling Forgotten Careers
The exhibition delves into the painful narratives of failed fashion careers, like that of Wayne Pinnock, a 1990s designer who once caught the attention of Suzy Menkes. Despite a promising start, Pinnock now works in a supermarket. This exhibition reclaims his fashion legacy.
Amplifying the Voices of Black Women
The curators recognized the historical absence of Black women’s perspectives but actively sought to change that narrative. They wanted more than just Black women in photographs; they aimed to include Black women photographers, creatives, and designers. Finding these stories was challenging but essential for filling the void of their erased voices.
A Common Thread of Erasure
A recurring theme in “The Missing Thread” is the persistent erasure of voices from history, now proudly exhibited. These once-neglected narratives form a poignant, shared thread, creating a space to celebrate the previously uncelebrated.
As co-curator, Harris Elliot found his role deeply emotional. His work involved unearthing, researching, and revisiting decades-old experiences of racism. One story recounts how Charlie Allen, a third-generation Black tailor, resorted to reciting the 23rd Psalm in an elevator each morning during the 1990s while enduring severe racism at his Regent Street workplace as it was the only thing that helped him face the day.