From print to VR: Priya Ahluwalia’s new virtual show
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London-based designer talks about the intricacies of bringing virtual and real experiences together in her 3D exhibition based on her latest book, ‘Jalebi’. Tour the show below and find the book at Soho Home.
By Osman Can Yerebakan
Fashion designer Priya Ahluwalia grew up frequenting west London’s Southall district, where smells of Punjabi restaurants fuse with colours of South Asian fabric stores. Back then, the neighbourhood was an inspiration and connection to her maternal heritage. Today, its vibrant streets and people are also the subject of the designer’s recent project, Jalebi.
‘I could never make jalebi myself because it’s a whole big affair,’ she says. Ahluwalia named the project after the fried and syrup-soaked South Asian delicacy, ‘because it’s sweet, like the memories of my family visits to India – it just made sense.’ The show and the 100-page book encapsulate the experiences, colours and histories instrumental in shaping her sustainable clothing line.
Just a few years ago, she was walking down the streets of the neighbourhood as a University of Westminster student in search of vintage and dead-stock fabrics for her first collection. After the massive success of her eponymous men’s streetwear line, the designer still commits to sustainable production and looks at her dual roots for inspiration.
Ahluwalia partnered with photographer Laurence Ellis to translate the sensual elements of her vision – and Proustian memory explosion of biting a jalebi – into a virtual show and a book. Theirs, however, goes beyond a one-off collaboration between a fashion designer and a photographer. They’ve been working together since Ellis shot Ahluwalia’s debut collection for More Or Less magazine soon after her graduation in 2018. The collection was a love letter to her trips to two lands that made her – Nigeria and India – as well as her upbringing in west London.
Ahluwalia’s family pictures, (‘taken right before I was born,’ she says) join street photographs among which a car shrouded with a blanket steals the scene. ‘Covering your car is common in India, and I had all these colourful fabrics with me, so I said “let’s do it”,’ the designer remembers about their shoot back in 2019. ‘We were there before the pandemic and Ahluwalia’s line was just starting to blow up,’ adds Ellis. They used the designer’s favourite restaurant, Moti Mahal, as their trailer and followed what they both call ‘an informal approach’ to documenting the neighbourhood.
Their initial plan to launch the project with a physical exhibition and an opening night event for London Fashion Week was halted by the pandemic. But Ahluwalia is pleased with the access that a virtual show offers outside the typical fashion world crowd. ‘Democratised,’ she calls the engagement granted to anyone who is a click away from the virtual show. ‘Digital innovation is a cool part of this effort, but access beyond a select crowd is really important.'
The reaction for the virtual show and the book have been astonishing, most importantly from the designer’s biggest support system, as well as critic: her own mother. ‘She was sceptical about the idea at first, but she eventually loved it.’
The book ‘Jalebi’ by Priya Ahluwalia is available to purchase at sohohome.com