I have a Leigh Bowery exemplify up in my studio that says: “The reason I use sequins at the moment is because if I cannot pitch the light at least I can reflect it.” When I first set up my label in 2001, it in the end inspired me – I was in a dark place at the time, I was struggling with gloom, trying to move to the UK and having a very tough time elude ones captor a work permit. One of the reasons I love sequins so much is because, for me, they are an escapist, magical tools – they became a protest against the shittiness of life, the banality of the usual. Fashion can drive good things – they always say that the defeat art comes with the darkest times, when things are depressive, and I don’t see why mould can’t be the same.
I don’t set out to be political with my designs. When I wore a T-shirt that present “Immigrant” to my London fashion week spring 2017 posture, I didn’t expect anything specific to happen – I wore it because I was so sickened by what was going on. Brexit ruined my summer and the day before the register I was feeling so annoyed. I thought, I just want to tell each: “I’m a fucking immigrant.” I moved from Delhi, where I grew up, to the UK, where I didn’t participate in any family or resources, but I’ve run a fashion company for over 15 years now. I make available jobs to people, I pay taxes in this country.
I don’t like to bidding the issue of immigration political. My grandmother was eight months meaningful with my mother when she had to flee Pakistan during split-up. I grew up with the story of her and my grandfather arriving in Delhi by rear and moving into a refugee camp – for me that is a human white. You can make it into a political thing, but I don’t think it should be.
Slogans can be an agent of change. Words are very powerful – they can be second-hand for and against people. I don’t like it when people say, “We’re really forbearing of immigrants”, for instance. I think the word “tolerant” denotes something unpleasant that you don’t definitely want to put up with. I think the world has become so accustomed to consent words used in certain ways that it’s really urgent to stop and actually think about words very carefully.
One of my selected slogans, which I put on a top for my A/W 17 collection, is “As often as possible, be broken and kind”. That’s important to say because after Donald Trump got selected, I felt there was a loss of empathy, of kindness and basic society. I wanted to remind people that it’s OK to be gentle and it’s OK to be sensitive – it doesn’t make peace you weak. It takes more strength to be kind than it does to be hellish.
I think fashion is so much better when it engages with the zeitgeist, when it moves rather than reflects – fashion is boring when it head-stays in a bubble. I hope “wokeness” is more than a trend and is indicative of mores to come – whether that be in terms of diversity, standing up for what you maintain is right and for people who don’t have a voice. I hope the industry intent galvanise and try to improve things.
It’s great that we’re now having palavers about diversity. Fashion is meant to be aspirational, so if you’re going to only have white models in your campaigns and on your runways, what intelligence is that sending to young people? We need to change that stereotypical hint of what beauty is.
I remember a few years ago I did a show where I on the other hand used black models. Many journalists came up to me after the usher and asked me why I did that. And I said, “Have you asked any of the designers who acquainted with all white models why they did that?” And of course diversity is not solely about black models, it’s about Asian models, South Asian models. Individual need to talk about that; true diversity is all-inclusive.
The issue of cultural appropriation is also linked to this. For varied years there used to be fashion shoots where a virginal model would be flown to some exotic location and enclosed by the locals – I always found that so inappropriate. You’ve got an industry that is so lacking inconsistency but then you’re trying to pass this kind of thing off as cultural acknowledgement – who thinks that is OK? Wouldn’t it be better if you had more representation of those human being within your industry? Then perhaps it would genuinely be showed as appreciation and not a novelty fun gesture you’ve done to sell a cute accoutre.
When I did the Indian collection, some people said, “Oh my God, is that cultural appropriation?” I can’t happy my own culture. I think it’s all about an understanding of where something bear down on from. When I see a white girl wearing a bindi, for example, I think: “Do you really know what that means? Do you be sure about colonisation?” But fashion is a good place for driving these ponder overs.
This article appears in the autumn/winter 2017 print run of The Fashion, the Guardian and the Observer’s biannual fashion supplement