Meet Bianca Saunders, our breakthrough designer of the year
As one of the most exciting names in menswear and the British fashion industry, Emma McCarthy puts a face to the name
Friday 30 September 2022 By Emma McCarthy
Just four years since her fashion week debut, Bianca Saunders has become a byword for the modern masculine aesthetic. If that sounds hyberbolic, one needs look no further than the British-Jamaican designer’s most recent collection – and in fact every collection before it. There you’ll find proof in the form of fluid pyjama suiting, elevated takes on sportswear and tailoring that turns tradition on its head, all of which speaks to the dresser who desires a point of difference to his attire.
She describes this as ‘borderline gender fluid’. ‘I say borderline because I feel like I still have a lot more to say in menswear before broadening the gap,’ she muses when we meet at her studio in Hackney, east London. ‘I like the idea of women coming to the other side of the room and showing an interest in wearing my clothes.’ (Side note: Saunders tries on everything she designs.) ‘But I feel like menswear has a way to go as far as exploring it in a fashion context, rather than just as clothes for purpose.’
It is this down-to-earth yet progressive thinking that has led to her rapid ascent to the top of the London menswear scene. Since graduating from the Royal College of Art in 2017 and debuting at London Fashion Week Men’s in 2018, the 29-year-old south Londoner has been named on the Forbes 30 Under 30 List, nominated for LVMH’s Young Designer Award and, last year, scooped the prestigious French ANDAM Prize – an accolade that includes a €300,000 cash injection, the opportunity to present her collections on the Paris catwalk, and a year-long mentorship from Balenciaga CEO Cédric Charbit.
‘It really made things click,’ she says of winning the award, granted by a panel that included Phoebe Philo and which counts Martin Margiela among its previous recipients. ‘It made me work harder and rethink exactly where I want the brand to be, because in the 32 years of that prize, every single person has done amazing things in fashion. So I thought, if I’m on this list, I need to do something amazing.’ I’m curious if – off the back of her mentorship – she would consider a move to a big Kering or LVMH-owned brand? ‘Never say never,’ says Saunders. ‘But right now, my brand is my main focus.’
Such is her level of focus that not even a global pandemic during her label’s infancy could derail the designer. On the contrary, it served to sharpen said focus. ‘It was a time to figure out how I wanted to develop going forward, but I also learnt not to lose sight of how I started,’ she says thoughtfully. ‘I think to myself, remember when you were in lockdown, doing everything yourself. As we grow and expand as a business, I want to make sure that my hands are actually still working in the brand and I don’t remove myself too far from it. It’s getting quite crazy now, so it’s important I find time for creativity.’
Another early unexpected occurrence was Ye joining her fanbase. ‘I was in Paris at the time,’ she says, recalling the moment when the artist formerly known as Kanye West tweeted a screenshot of one of her SS21 looks. ‘One of my friends sent me the tweet and I was just screaming. I thought it was fake.’ Saunders also namechecks Lenny Kravitz as a dream client, but concedes that no celebrity endorsement is worth more than her family’s seal of approval. Though it isn’t supermodel cousin Naomi Campbell she’s most interested in impressing. ‘My mum is a hairdresser and my dad a plasterer. They’re not fashion people. So if my family want to wear my clothes, I’m doing something right.’