Staged in Brixton Village and watched over by local traders, Foday Dumbaya travelled over the trials and tribulations of the immigrant experience for AW23
Last summer, a US TikToker made a “come with me to…” video as she spent the day flitting between bottomless brunch venues in Brixton. Like all TikToks belonging to that genre, the 18-second clip showcased a commercialised view of a London borough whose cultural significance extends far beyond natural wine bars and raclette joints. Rather than spotlighting the traditional vendors that trade from Brixton Market, the video recommended Franco Manca and somewhere called “Bottle + Rye”.
On Twitter, people criticised the creator for failing to spotlight the immigrant communities that have lived in and contributed towards the area for the best part of 100 years, compounding Brixton as an avatar for urban gentrification. Home to over 110 businesses, Brixton Village has found itself on the fault lines of a knotted social history; a symbolic heartland for Afro-Caribbean Londoners that’s managed to defend itself against the same redevelopment that’s seen so many historic centres become Box Parks. Perhaps that’s why Foday Dumbuya – whose motto at Labrum is “designed by an immigrant” – has chosen to reclaim the space as part of his AW23 show at London Fashion Week.
Staged alongside various local traders – among them Esmes, Kumasi Market, and Ma Soda – Dumbuya straddled fashion, performance, poetry, music, and dance with guests sitting beneath the market’s Grade II-listed arches. It wasn’t an example of Brixton’s “yassification” so much as it was proof of fashion’s potential to platform and preserve cultural histories. “Gentrification suggests an imposition of the new and the erasure of the old,” says Diana Nabagereka, the general manager of Brixton Village. “This highlights the stories and journeys of those who make Brixton what it is. And to have our vendors take part further encompasses the market’s identity rather than using it as a superficial backdrop.”
The showcase chronicled the lives of Britain’s first wave of Afro-Caribbean immigrants who found themselves simultaneously romanced and disenfranchised by their new home. The old-school suitcases that were worn as hats were a metaphor for all those burdens: families being torn apart, the promise of a better life not quite squaring up to reality. Soundtracked by live musicians from the Balimaya Project and a poetry recital from Inua Ellams, the collection ran the gamut of zip-sliced tailoring, Nomoli-embroidered varsity jackets, puckered gilets, and broad-shouldered bombers in brown, olive green, and tangerine. Off the runway, staff members at Coffee Shop Addis were dressed in full traditional attire, serving ceremonial tea backstage.
“The team are rich in purpose, personable, and truly connected to their community. All those attributes reflect how Brixton Village is understood by its community and those that connect with it regularly,” said Nabagereka, who describes Labrum as her newfound fashion ally. With passports and travel documents emblazoned across suits and trench coats, the show acknowledged the compromises many of the market’s traders were once forced to make – be that deciding who gets to make a fresh start, leaving children behind, and the guilt of being the one to leave. “Watching Foday bring these people together and invite them to be part of his show’s narrative has been beautiful to watch. It’s a true celebration of London and West Africa,” she says. “With real people at its heart.”