British-Jamaican menswear designer Bianca Saunders is making big waves in the sea of fashion, constantly refining aspects of her Jamaican heritage as inspiration. Her Fall/Winter 2023 ‘Playwork’ collection, recently shown at Paris Fashion Week (PFW), was inspired by Jamaican comedian Oliver Samuels’ hit show in the 90s. Oliver on the loose. Oui, Oliver made it to ‘Parea’.
Twenty-four hours after a seemingly successful show featuring RnB singer Usher, it would be an understatement to say that Saunders’ life is busy, but she graciously took the time to chat with The Sunday Gleaner. Standing in her Paris hotel room with her braids in a bun, her high cheekbones rival those of models strutting the catwalk. She exudes effortless chic while wearing a killer silver layered chain with a simple black color.
With a hairdresser mother from Kingston and a carpenter father from St Mary’s, the 29-year-old from south-east London says she always wanted to be a designer and is grateful that her parents have always supported and encouraged her craft.
Determined to explore her creative side and change things in the industry, a teacher at school encouraged her to get into menswear, where she says once she tried it, she quickly realized it was her calling.
She is now part of an exclusive group of womenswear designers in a luxury context, including Grace Wales Bonner, Martine Rose (both with Jamaican roots) and Emily Adams Bode.
Rock also inspired her previous collections, ‘Videolight’ for Fall/Winter 2020 and ‘Hard Food’ for Spring/Summer 2023. Being born in the UK, Saunders wonders why it’s important to represent Jamaica through fashion. “My main cultural background is Jamaican. “Every time I’ve been back to Jamaica, I feel at home and I think it’s important to not only show that in a musical context, but also in fashion,” she says. “Also, in Paris. I feel like that’s a big deal and I feel like people should want to understand my stories and want to explore the inspiration if they don’t know what it’s about.”
She looks away and says with a smile, “To be honest, everyone loves Jamaican culture anyway.” True, but she continues to successfully blend culture into her passion for fashion in original ways. She modestly says, “It’s just a nice way of conceptualizing the story in a fashion context.”
Creating a stellar reputation for impeccable tailoring, Saunders’ ‘Playwork’ presentation set was reminiscent of Oliver on the loose scene. At the same time, she raised the style stakes with playful shades and abstracted photos Oliver on the loose on sweaters, T-shirts and sweatpants.
Saunders says her inspiration came from watching one of Samuels’ plays in London and knowing that her partner’s mother, Lovena Brown, had acted in Oliver on the looseshe reached out to the comedy icon to ask his permission to use him as her muse.
Speaking with The Sunday Gleaner, Samuels, while admitting he hadn’t seen the collection yet, was ecstatic to be inspired by it. “I’m so proud of her,” he said and, without skipping a beat, added, “I should speak in French.”
Samuels said, “I’m always very willing to give young people a chance to express themselves, especially when it’s in a positive light, and she reached out to me over a year ago and asked, and I didn’t even think it was serious.” Saunders was very serious and he succeeded. “Wow. My God!” Samuels said.
Saunders, an ackee and saltfish fan who counts the late Vivienne Westwood as one of her fashion design inspirations, says she hasn’t been back to Jamaica since 2017 and misses it, especially Ocho Rios. She would like to visit soon, but the world of fashion is calling, and she can’t deny that she likes it.
“I really enjoy my job,” she says, and I can tell she means it. She lives in her purpose. “I woke up this morning and said, ‘Wow, I’m actually living my dream.’ So I’m just trying to take it in as much as I can because I don’t want to miss a moment. And I want a long career in this.”
Her hopes for the future? “For the brand to continue to grow and become a world name and to continue to inspire the younger generation of people.”
You got this, Bianca.