The annual award, now in its fourth year, was presented by Queen Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, during a free show at London Fashion Week on Tuesday.
A statement issued by the British Fashion Council (BFC), the agency responsible for working with the royal family on the selection of winners, called the designers “progressive thinkers and agents for change”.
Ahluwalia launched her famous commercial poster in 2018, attracting industry attention for the first time for her “Sweet Lassi” photobook. The book, along with a master’s degree collection for her master’s degree in high-end suits, took the designer’s eyes to Nigeria and India, where she saw the astonishment of the second-hand garment industry and the amount of clothing lost by consumers.
Panipat costumes photographed in ‘Sweet Lassi’ Credits: Priya Ahluwalia
In an interview with CNN last year, the London-based designer, who is both Indian and Nigerian heritage, said her interest in sustainable design was expressed during a family outing in Lagos. There, she spotted some unsuspecting foreign clothing market vendors, such as T-shirts from the 2012 London Marathon.
“I was impressed and dug deeper, relentlessly stepping up to the surface that the appearance of these cloths told a bigger story,” she said.
Her research took her to the city of Panipat, north of Delhi, which is a major center of garment production and is often referred to as the “thrown capital” of the world. “I’m interested and still worried about how much we throw each other,” said Ahluwalia. “Visiting Panipat is life-changing and I decided to start my brand with sustainable principles.”
“Sweet Lassi” is a pair of people sitting in old clothes in a re-production facility with a studio shoot of models wearing their own clothes.
Ahluwalia’s clothing uses old and dead fabrics, a mix of sportswear with a variety of silk fabrics. Her innovative approach has seen her receive notable awards over the years, including the H&M Design Award in 2019. She is also one of eight brands to co-host the prestigious LVMH Awards in 2020.
Ahluwalia Spring-Summer 2020 Credits: Dominika Scheibinger
Photography continues to play an important role in Ahluwalia’s work, which makes the design of concepts and storytelling – often focused on materials and people. “I feel like a lot of creativity … I still like the idea of storytelling and creating a world for those who are interested,” she said.
During London Fashion Week in June, Ahluwalia published another book, “Jalebi”, which draws on her own legacy. Working with photographer Laurence Ellis, she places the Punjabi community on the west and center by collecting documents about everyday life in the diverse Southall neighborhood. According to Ahluwalia, his mother is a Punjabi native, the images obtained have an impact on many British cultures.
“Brexit has just happened, as is the case with Windrush, and there is an increasingly hostile environment for tribes,” she explained. “I want to create a piece of work that celebrates beauty in diversity.”
Also from Ahluwalia digital exhibition and book ‘Jalebi’ Credits: Ahluwalia / Laurence Ellis
View from Ahluwalia Spring-Summer 2021 Credits: Laurence Ellis
The Queen Elizabeth II Prize for British Design recognizes the role of the fashion industry in society and diplomacy. It honors young designers whose work makes a positive impact through sustainable practices or community involvement.
BFC Executive Director Caroline Rush praised Ahluwalia’s efforts to reach out to communities around London and abroad, calling her “an inspiration” to British wet designers.
During the official award ceremony on Tuesday, Ahluwalia described the victory as a surprise, “more” than it’s to be recognized for doing something you love. “
Richard Quinn won the 2018 pageant, with the Queen making a surprise appearance at his London fashion show to claim the award. Rosh Mahtani, founder of the Alighieri jewelry brand, and fashion designer Bethany Williams are among the other recipients of the award.
London Fashion Week runs from Friday 19th to Tuesday 23rd February, and is fully digital this season due to the ongoing epidemic.
(Top photo: painting by Priya Ahluwalia by Laurence Ellis)