Falling In Love With Supriya Lele’s Work Is As Easy As ABC

Travel back to London Fashion Week to get a glimpse of London-based Indian designer, Supriya Lele's, refreshing commentary on femininity and the female form

London-based Indian designer Supriya Lele has taken the fashion industry by storm with her work making an appearance in many fashion publications around the world. Ever since the beginning of her fashion career, she merges her Indian heritage alongside British influences, such as the goth subculture and her love for Black Sabbath. This is still evident today in her most recent Spring/Summer collection for 2022 that was a part of London Fashion Week or LFW this year. 

Her commentary on femininity and the female form is also refreshing and exciting. “My designs come from a very personal point of view; I felt that was a good place to start,” Lele reflects.

Supriya Lele photographed by Will Grundy

In an article from Elephant Magazine, she further elaborates that she wanted to incorporate elements of her childhood and heritage in a way that is modern and specific to her experiences. Thus came the birth of her signature draping and mixing of textures that puts comfort and confidence at the forefront. 

She completed her Master’s degree from the Royal College of Art in 2016, with her LFW debut being in 2017 for Autumn/Winter alongside the Fashion East group, which is a non-profit talent incubator run by Lulu Kennedy. Her presentation was in the Tate Modern Museum. She states that it was a “big moment for her” in an interview with Vogue India in 2020.  

Born into a family of medical professionals, she states that her family has always known that she was interested in fashion. In an article written by i-D, she states that one of her core memories is watching her Nani or grandmother put on a sari and being mesmerized by it as well as being aware of the cultural significance clothing has. 

Lele elaborates that her A/W 2017 collection was the first time she felt confident in her decision of choosing fashion over sculpture after leaving her Architecture program in Edinburgh one year after enrolling.

“Having complete freedom of expression and being able to experiment. It’s really liberating to feel that there is so much to explore and be inspired by. London is brilliant for that too, there is so much going on here and so many amazing people to bounce off.”
– Her thoughts on being a young creative in London 

She was also a finalist and joint recipient of the 2020 LVMH prize. This initiative started by LVMH in 2014 was to support up and coming fashion designers all over the world. The winner receives a 300,000 euro grant and personalized assistance for their company over a span of 12 months. Thus, providing them with a lot of insight and guidance during the process of growing their brand both creatively as well as logistically. 

Her photography book titled Narmada was launched last year to raise funds for Girl Rising in India, which emphasizes the power of storytelling and creative media in order to rid of stereotypes and inspire young girls to put forth their aspirations. The 184-page book features Indian girls photographed by Jamie Hawkesworth and is described as “a celebration of people, places and the next generation of Indian girls.” 

In more recent news, she teamed up with Swatch to create a new line of five watches called ‘The SKIN collection,’ which launched September 7. The line hints at minimalism with a Supriya Lele twist with bright colors and patterns to inject life back into it. The watch case is made from bio-sourced plastic. Three of the designs feature the Madras check while two have the face numbers in Hindi. 

“I looked to my signature minimalist silhouettes, traditional saris distressed to transparent overlays, dyed squid- ink black, peacock blue, medallion yellow, and the Madras check for inspiration. The Swatch SKIN CLASSIC provided the perfect canvas and is worn almost like a second skin – the light, minimalist look and feel has many synergies with my creative vision.”
— Lele explains to Show Studio.

Her innovative interpretation of her cultural identity through clothing is what makes her an up-and-coming designer and why many have started to follow her career more carefully. Accurately so, Browns Fashion has stated that “Supriya Lele has subverted the womenswear landscape with an assortment of eccentric pieces — nuances which manifest in the unexpected details, vibrant prints and layered swathes of sheer textiles.” 

Throughout her career, this trait has made her one to watch. In her debut Autumn/Winter collection in 2017, it is evident that she was inspired by the matriarchal system in her family as the silhouettes chosen were minimal yet chic. The color palette screams India with pastel pinks and saffrons with hints of gold—which plays a large role in Indian culture. Further, the use of handmade plastic crepes seen in look 4 as well as the floral pattern emphasizes the inspiration behind it. The collection can be summarized in one word: contrast. It was the perfect way to establish herself as a designer. 

The following year in 2018, her Fall/Winter collection, which was done under Lulu Kennedy’s Fashion East supervision, hosted a series of looks that emphasized 90s minimalism. She used layering to symbolize sari fabric, Indian-inspired jewelry, and the Madras checkered print in techno-neon colors. She also enforced the tailoring style of Helmut Lang, who is known for his sharp tailoring, utilitarian pieces, and minimalistic perspective. It is also important to note that the models cast were mostly Black and South Asian. An article from Vogue came out after this collection which features pictures of Lele’s aunties and grandmother and provides a new outlook on the collection as a whole. Her appreciation for the women around her is unparalleled.

In 2019, her Autumn/Winter collection took a darker turn and was inspired by the NHS uniforms, referencing her family of female doctors. The blue cross of the NHS was a recurring motif and was laid on archival Indian fabric. She continued her style of draping that has now become a signature, alongside elements of the NHS uniforms like zip-ups and high-necks to imitate medical uniforms and surgical scrubs.

The Spring 2020 collection provided a lot of insight into the emerging trends in London specifically brought in by second-and third-generation immigrants such as Lele herself. The combination of her identity was something that others were doing as well, showing how fashion is more than just aesthetics and technicality but can be personal too. 

“These ideas of these skeletons of your identity . . . the damping down of the identity you go through as a teenager—and then finding your confidence to grow into a woman and find yourself.” – Vogue

This collection used elements of asymmetry and delicateness typically found in South Asian clothing. Also, it brought in modernity by incorporating stretch dresses in Madras checks and slits to signify sensuality and strength. In an article with Elle, she mentions that she had bleached sari fabrics and laid them over sheer black fabric. In more subtle ways, she brings in her heritage and modernizes it through mixing high and low fabrics together like silk and rubber or mesh and tulle to provide richness. The use of rubber material is an ode to her love for punk rock ever since she was a teenager. 

Her most recent Spring collection was shown during London Fashion Week on September 20th, 2021. The themes are transformation, rebirth and finding love again, which is self-explanatory as she focused on her experiences with changes in her personal life during lockdown. The collection oozed glamour, as said by Alice Cary for Vogue. Lele elaborated that she wanted the catwalk format as movement is key to bringing full justice to each look. She worked with Indian artisans all over the country to get the delicate fabrics that she knows and loves. 

Image may contain Human Person Clothing Apparel Sleeve Runway Dress Fashion and Long Sleeve

Lockdown increased her sales and so she was even more motivated to produce beautiful pieces. She worked on the cuts and tailoring specifically, something that has been her strong point in exemplifying feminine sophistication.

Lele incorporated a lot of the trends seen in LFW this year such as removing the distinctions of garments, for example, underwear as outerwear and arranging semi-sheer pieces of fabric with cut-outs. It definitely hints at the Y2K aesthetic that has been blowing up all over social media and has been inspiring celebrities more recently too.

Her growth as a designer over the past few years is demonstrated through her collections that continuously hold the same significance of carrying her cultural identity and being uniquely Supriya Lele whilst being technically challenging and aesthetically stunning. The appreciation that fashion enthusiasts and critics around the world are now having for her work makes it hard to imagine that she won’t be a household name within the next decade.

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