THE MISSING THREAD: UNTOLD STORIES OF BLACK BRITISH FASHION

HAPPENINGText: Victor Moreno

Curated by the Black Orientated Legacy Development Agency (BOLD) from September 2023 to 7 January 2024 at Somerset House in London, The Missing Thread is a comprehensive and impactful celebration of the influence of Black British culture and how it turned Britain to towards a more diverse future and has shaped Britain’s flamboyant fashion design history. The exhibition covers a significant time span, from the 1970s to the present, showcasing the evolution of Black creativity and its profound legacy on various aspects of British culture. The exhibition is laid-out in four segments: home, tailoring, performance and nightlife.


Bianca Saunders ‘YELLOW’ SS20 campaign. Shot and Styled by Ronan McKenzie

The exhibition’s first segment, “Home”, explains how Black immigrants planned to come to the UK to earn money and return home to their “sunnier and less hostile environments”. However, a new generation of Black Britons “found the British weather was agreeable and as they grew more permanent roots they realized that this might be their home after all,” the exhibition explains. The interval between the 1970s and 1980 in the UK marked a complex socio-political landscape and there was an anti-immigrant sentiment marked by Thatcher’s Conservative party and the consequential shifts in immigration policies. The turbulent era was ignited by the cross-cultural blend of the original heritage of Black Britons adapting to a new environment, leading to the emergence of numerous subcultural movements. In the face of oppression, Black British style and fashion emerged.


Erica Davletov looks at pieces from the archive of British fashion designer, Joe Casely-Hayford as they go on view ahead of the opening of ‘The Morgan Stanley Exhibition – The Missing Thread: Untold Stories of Black British Fashion’ at Somerset House, London. September 18, 2023. Photo: David Parry/PA Wire

The second part of the exhibition explores “Tailoring”. Different key figures played game-changing roles that made a significant impact on the industry. This was the case for Ghanaian immigrant, British-born Ozwald Boateng – a transformative force in fashion whose visionary work achieved recognition at Paris Fashion Week in the mid 1990s – eventually becoming the Creative Director of Givenchy Homme in 2003. Thereafter, in 2005, the Victoria and Albert Museum held a 20-year retrospective acknowledging Boateng’s influential body of work.


Ossie Williams views MacPhisto suit by Joe Casely-Hayford worn by Bono ahead of the opening of ‘The Morgan Stanley Exhibition – The Missing Thread: Untold Stories of Black British Fashion’ at Somerset House, London. September 18, 2023. Photo: David Parry/PA Wire

Another important forerunner of Black British fashion is Joe Casely-Hayford, who became one of the UK’s most respected fashion designers, awarded the honors of OBE (Order of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth. Casely-Hayford challenged the social establishment with his own fashion brand through which he documented and studied contemporary life. The Casely-Hayford family has been dubbed the most influential Black family in the UK. His sister, Dr. Margaret Casely-Hayford, was Chancellor of Coventry University and chairs the board of trustees of Shakespeare’s Globe. While his son Charlie Casely-Hayford, is a successful fashion designer and his daughter, Alice, is the Digital Editor of British Vogue magazine, who lent some original pieces from her father’s archive for the exhibition.

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