Black British Music and Style

Andrew Ibi, co-curator of The Missing Thread, explores the links between fashion, style and music which has been critically established through decades of change and innovation

By Somerset House

Article written by designer, artist and educator Andrew Ibi, member of The Black Oriented Legacy Development Agency (BOLD)

3. Clio (Portrait of Dorothea Smartt) 1989, Maud Sulter © Estate of Maud Sulter. All rights reserved, DACS 2023Somerset House

The Missing Thread

A new Somerset House exhibition opening in September explores Black Fashion Identity and Style Culture, absorbing generational storytelling and personal narratives associated with the arts and far beyond.

Saul Nash AW23 'Ritual' BTS Shot by Ollie Trenchard by Shot by Ollie TrenchardSomerset House

Central to the conversation is the interaction with youth culture, social place and of course, the impact of Black music in all of its diverse and  radical identities.

Jennie Baptiste, Pinky, 2001 (Stylist Chinyere Eze, Make-up artist Brenda Cuffy) by Jennie BaptisteSomerset House

From Jazz, Rock and Roll, Hip-Hop to Acid House and everything else in between, Black musicians, performers and activists sit squarely at the heart of style innovations.

History has illustrated Black musicians as a collective culture, as a driving force for style, beauty, dance, language and swagger presenting an enduring, seismic force of reflection, resistance and change and in turn, directing and steering broader popular culture.

Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Four Twins, 1985. Courtesy Autograph, London by Rotimi Fani-KayodeSomerset House

A long history of Black musical appropriation

Misrepresentation and exploitation is notably present in Rock ‘n’ Roll, and prior to that there is the contentious story of the origins of Jazz.

Notting Hill Carnival 1979, Sound System on Portobello Road under the Westway (1979/1979) by Adrian BootNotting Hill Carnival

In the UK, Reggae plays a vital development in the UK Punk scene and supplies the original musical backdrop alongside its DIY aesthetics  which can be said, draws influences from Jamaican sound system and Rudeboy culture.

Donn Letts describes this as ‘Culture Clash', and its fashion impact is well documented with Black icons like Poly Styrene and Neneh Cherry blurring the lines of race, expectation, identity and image.

New, culturally inclusive and authentic UK youth focussed magazines like ID and The Face, founded in the early 80’s, document the coming together of Fashion, Music and Art at street level – giving rise to a new generation of connected creatives, straddling new opportunities and breaking with normality and tradition.

Soul II Soul record their classic club anthem in 1989

Back to Life visually and systematically combines disparate influences of a new generation of Black British youth. The seminal record charts in the UK and US at number 1 and brings Black UK Fashion, Music and Style culture to the mainstream.

LIFE Photo Collection

Buffalo style is a beneficiary of colliding creatives, drawing on Black cultural influences to define a new generation of Fashion thinkers. These radical practitioners include stylists, photographers, designers and musicians leading to a direct impact on traditional fashion.

Rikki, Glamour Posse, 1993, Ajamu © Ajamu .jpg by AjamuSomerset House

These collective influences forcibly steer youth culture and dramatically change the landscape of expression. The Institution of Fashion, as a vampiric external system, has always been first in line to absorb new cultural shifts and visual identities. 

Eileen Perrier, Untitled 1, Afro Hair and Beauty 1998 © Eileen Perrier by Eileen PerrierSomerset House

Black music’s impact on fashion is profound and its influence can clearly be seen throughout the history of modern fashion. 

Nicholas Daley SS 23 modelled by Zakia Sewell. by Nicholas Daley. Photo by PiczoSomerset House

Today, Black music and style has become the catalyst for modern fashion culture with sportswear, street style and streetwear forming the celebrated commercial language and backbone of all luxury fashion brands. 

Credits: Story

Somerset House presents The Morgan Stanley Exhibition The Missing Thread: Untold Stories of Black British Fashion, from 21 Sep 2023 - 07 Jan 2024. The exhibition is curated by the Black Orientated Legacy Development Agency (BOLD), a creative, design development agency working to forge structural and institutional change across the fashion industry and beyond. The agency is the brainchild of Andrew IbiHarris Elliot and Jason Jules.

Words by Andrew Ibi.

Andrew Ibi is a designer, artist and educator. He is currently the programme leader for the BA Fashion: Design & Communication and Associate Dean of Diversity and Inclusion at Liverpool John Moores University.  

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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