Courtesy of Jawara Alleyne

Fashion East’s newcomer, Jawara Alleyne, talks us through his AW21 debut

The Jamaican-Caymanian designer is exploring Caribbean mythology in order to rethink notions of modern masculinity.

by Osman Ahmed
24 February 2021, 4:54pm

Courtesy of Jawara Alleyne

This season, Fashion East welcomes a newcomer to its stable of Bright Young Things: recent Central Saint Martins graduate, Jawara Alleyne. The Jamaican-Caymanian designer makes his debut for AW21 with a continuation of his MA graduate collection, titled ‘Self Made Man’. “I was always searching for myself and my identity, as growing up as a gay person in the Caribbean was quite a challenge,” Jawara told us last year. “My work has always been a case of searching for who I am, and what other possibilities are out there for me.” It was in the process of making Self Made Man, however, that he hit upon a eureka moment. “I realised that identity isn’t something that you find, or arrive at. It’s something that’s constantly in the works, something you create yourself.”

Through exploring Caribbean mythology, Jawara has toyed with the notions of ancient and modern masculinity, creating work that is at once both sculptural and grounded in the reconfiguration of archetypal garments, such as tailoring and denim. His AW21 is just a dozen looks — much of it upcycled, as a result of lockdown — but as Lulu Kennedy, Fashion East’s matriarch, points out: “New designers needn’t do loads of looks. Maybe the work is extra focused as we don’t have the usual distractions of a social life.” We caught up with Jawara to discover the intricate story behind his first official collection, the challenges of putting together a debut during lockdown, and the poetic world he’s building with his designs. 

Hi Jawara! Can you tell us about your new collection?

Hey! The collection on one level explores Caribbean mysticism and storytelling as a starting point and develops into a story that follows a Captain and her Crew on their ship ‘The Renegade’ as they travel through space-time, trying to stop a great evil from destroying the Sun City. The collection sitting within that story delves deeper into sensuality through draping in menswear brought to life through a mix of hand-crafting techniques. Loose hand-weaving mixed with cross-cultural and artisanal approaches to draping are used to bring this collection to life.

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Where did you start, and how did it develop into what it is?

I think it started in the first lockdown. I decided to use the time to just explore and delve deeper into the draping story I started on the MA. At the same time, I was delving deeper into music. It was quite a natural development of using the time to explore music and learn a bit more about the history in music such as dancehall, reggae, rock and trip hop. I started noticing patterns of a feeling of rebellion in all the things I was drawn to. All this took me to an exploration of storytelling and Caribbean mythology which took me on a full circle back to the pirate mythology I was exploring in my final collection.

I think this collection takes the idea of storytelling and uses it as a metaphor alongside real moments in time captured through music, film, art and culture. It delves deeper on a lot of levels as I broke down my ideas into a project called the Drapework Series. I think with each opportunity I was presented I used it as a chance to push myself and the extent of my thoughts and research in draping, sustainability and masculinity. The Renegade is a natural development of all these expressions.

In an interview with us last year, you said you were looking at codes of masculinity and exploring references to the Caribbean. How have those ideas developed with this collection? 

Yes, my research is always having this conversation with masculinity and the Caribbean. With this collection, it becomes even more fine-tuned as I used Caribbean mysticism to tell a story of a more thoughtful and sensual man. Masculinity and the way we wear clothes have become a bit mono-toned, but there have always been different types of men.

Through storytelling, I’ve broken down not only different types of men within my collection but also different ways of wearing, I’m obsessed with the ways people can take a thing and make it their own. There’s this poetry you can see when you stop to take a look at the way that fabric is draped with intent on the body. A language of detail developed through a cross-cultural relationship with the body and fabric.

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What were your biggest experiments when it came to techniques?

With this collection I wanted to push the garments into a space that places hand-crafting at the core. The entire collection was developed under lockdown so it was an opportunity to use the resources I had around me to pull out something beautiful and magical. A process that really held true to the story I was telling of this world where things would have been crafted by hand, and experimenting further with riveting, draping and expanding that into folding, hand-weaving and ruching. The characters exist across time and as such I was looking at different historical references criss-crossed and woven on top of each other to show that these characters themselves are playing with historical references in their own approach to putting things together.

What did you find the biggest challenges of creating the collection during lockdown?

The biggest challenge was access as the collection was developed without access to fabric stores and other places I would normally go for sourcing. It was a challenge with a positive outcome though as it allowed me to further develop my design philosophy and thoughts on resourcefulness and building a more sustainable approach to design.

All the garments in this collection were carefully hand-crafted using materials which had a story and life of their own before being transformed into a new story. I think these challenges aren’t just reflective of the situation we’re in now but the situation we’ll be in for a while. It’s already a difficult industry for young designers to survive in and now with the extended effects of coronavirus and Brexit, we’ll really have to think beyond 2021 in order to stick around.

In general, how do you think your work reflects the wider world? Was there a particular message you wanted to convey with it?

I don’t think there was something specific I was trying to say, but more-so to capture a snapshot in time. A collection of conversations that weave in and out and on-top of each other. One that asks us to carefully unravel the threads to make sense of what’s being said. It presents the message as a series of questions… After all, that's what’s being reflected in history right now.

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Jawara Alleyne