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Ahluwalia AW23 LFW Dazed Cris Fragkou beauty looks
Photography Christina Fragkou

How Sade and Lauryn Hill inspired the beauty looks at Ahluwalia AW23

The hair and make-up at Ahluwalia this season celebrated musical genius and Black excellence as Priya Ahluwalia paid tribute to the icons that have inspired her throughout her life

Music was the heart and soul of Priya Ahluwalia’s collection this season, as the designer turned to the soundtrack of her adolescence for her AW23 inspiration. Mohair knitwear, jacquard jackets and skin-tight bodycons with big frilled collars were infused with the spirit of music through sound wave patterns, musical note motifs and instrumental silhouettes, all showcased to the music of a live saxophonist who provided the soundtrack for the presentation.

When it came to the beauty, Cyndia Harvey, Mata Mariélle using Charlotte Tilbury, and Ama Quashie helped Ahluwalia translate these musical stylings into hair, make-up and nail looks. Taking the musical icons that she has admired throughout her life as a starting point, Ahluwalia looked to the style of artists like Sade, Lauryn Hill, Tupac, Missy Elliott and Prince and then worked with the team to put a fresh and modern twist on their iconic looks. The result was beauty that pays tribute to the expressive and creative ways that Black musicians have presented themselves over the years.

For the nails, Quashie’s translation was more literal. Working with Harry Styles’ brand Pleasing, the nail artist turned the sound wave patterns from the collection into manicure designs. It’s been a process Ahluwalia has found very exciting and part of her larger brand expansion this season which has also seen the designer debut footwear for the first time. In the future she says, she hopes to one day go one step further and launch Ahluwalia Beauty. 

Dazed caught up with Ahluwalia just before her show this weekend to find out more about the beauty looks, her musical inspirations and why she will continue to celebrate Black hair through her work and platform.

The collection is based around music this season and your musical icons throughout your life. Why was now the time that you wanted to explore that?

Priya Ahluwalia: When we did the last two shows, the music was so important and we got so much amazing feedback about the music. So it made me think: what does Ahluwalia sound like to me? What music inspires me as a creative and why has that happened? From there I was thinking about my personal journey with music from when I was a kid to now. All these different types of tracks that really bring back fond memories or remind me of special times in my life. So I wanted to celebrate that.

Has music been an inspiration for your designs before or was that new territory for you?

Priya Ahluwalia: Definitely. For SS22, it was a lot about Black hair and the artistry around it but I was looking at music videos quite heavily. I think that’s one of the best forms of Black self-expression that there is, we get to see Blackness in abundance with the hair, make-up, everything. So I’ve always looked at musicians and music but I think that this is the first session where I really honed in on who those icons are for me, you know, is it Sade, Missy Elliott, Luther Vandross, Prince. 

How did you translate that theme of music into the beauty looks for the show?

Priya Ahluwalia: So Cyndia Harvey is doing the hair, we’re thinking about really glamorous, Bollywood Diana Ross blow drys for some of the look. Some of the hair and make-up looks are inspired by Sade, some of the men’s make-up slightly have a Lenny Kravitz inspiration to them. So it’s definitely not like we’re copying the characters, but there’s contemporary twists on some of their iconic looks.

Was it important to you that the beauty looks paid tribute to these artists without it becoming a novelty?

Priya Ahluwalia: I feel like my job is to create something new that people haven’t seen before. That’s the bit that I love. It’s like respecting the past, researching the past, but then paying homage to it in a way that is forward thinking. I would never want to create something that feels like people could say, ‘Oh, I’ve seen that before’. I want there to be these hints of recognition for people but it’s familiar and distant. So it was important for me to think about re-working – looking at those references but then bringing them into a new light.

Black hair has been a significant part of your work throughout your career. Why do you think that’s come through as such a strong theme that you want to express creatively?

Priya Ahluwalia: If you ask any Black woman, their relationship with their hair is something that starts from when they were a kid and it’s ever changing. Black hair is so sentimental, it’s meaningful because you go through transitions of your hair with your family and with your local community, with the salon you go to. But then also it’s politicised.

For me, Black hair is art and it’s history. And it’s really important that we celebrate it. It’s also incredibly creative and so as well as it being really important to me because of representation, I think it’s actually a beautiful medium to experiment with. For me, representation is so key and if I’ve got this platform to work with, it’s a key element that I want to celebrate.

It is so fun when you look back on Missy Elliott videos or Lauryn Hill, the hair is so amazing and creative.

Priya Ahluwalia: Exactly. And I think it’s music videos and Black-led productions that have historically always celebrated Black hair. When you look at fashion shows historically, it’s not until more recent years where Black hair has been really celebrated. We’ve all heard the horror stories of Black models getting their hair burnt off. I don’t want the people that work with me on my show to go through anything like that. If anything, their natural features and beauty should be able to be celebrated and amplified.

What was the concept for the nails?

Priya Ahluwalia: For the nails we’re working with Pleasing this season. They’ve sponsored us for the show. We’ve taken some of the prints that are in the collection and then turned them into nail art. I love nails, I’ve had fake nails since I was 13, so nails are a real thing for me and being able to take those prints and reimagine them has been really fun.

Has it been fun expanding and exploring these new avenues for your brand?

Priya Ahluwalia: Yeah, 100 per cent and, you know, one day, I would like to have Ahluwalia Beauty.