Monday, February 4, 2019

Meet the menswear designer making a fashion moment for South Asian people

With every fashion week comes the emergence of a new name. At London Fashion Week Men’s in January 2019, Rahemur Rahman, a London-born Bangladeshi designer, was the new kid on the block. 

He showed off the official schedule at the Kobi Nazrul Centre. The show was met with praise from publications such as Wallpaper* and AnOther Man, and the support of fashion journalist, Sarah Mower. 

Rahman graduated from the MA Menswear programme in 2014, the same year as Grace Wales Bonner (also from the Menswear programme), Richard Malone and A Sai Ta (Womenswear graduates). “We were part of the press show so people expected me to start a label but I wasn’t ready at the time,” said Rahman.

Rahman completed stints at Nicomede Talavera, Yang Li, and Underground England. His time at Underground England, where he designed footwear, inspired him to apply for the MA in Footwear at the Royal College of Arts in London. “My scholarship had fallen through. I’m glad it did because it allowed me to re-evaluate and, after four years of moving around design jobs, it pushed me back into design and I wanted to launch my own label.” Thus, Rahman’s eponymous line was born.

“For the people who dream in colour,” read his press release, with an emphasis on “connecting cultures and people through fashion.”

His Fall 2019 collection was underscored by the fusion of Saville Row-inspired tailoring and traditional Bangladeshi dress, and the interplay of old family photos in 90s London with the contemporary streetscape of his local Tower Hamlets. The clothes, in shades of aqua, salmon, and brown, sought influence from feminine tailoring.

“I was surprised by the response. I was standing out the front and nobody knew who I was — an editor was walking past and said, ‘how did this small designer get so many people here,’ and that was when I started to realise something was happening.”

A chat with a journalist invoked the true weight of what his debut was worth. “She said, “you have made a moment for South Asian people.” Rahman is part of a new generation of South Asian designers making waves on the London scene. His contemporaries are on the womenswear schedule: Supriya Lele and A Sai Ta’s ASAI. In the uncertain Brexit era, his multicultural effort feels optimistic and important. He continued, “I didn’t anticipate the pressure of having a voice. I don’t think I was prepared to be heard.”

“My father is a tailor in East London and he’s made suits for all his life. He used to make my brothers and I suits for Eid al-Fitr and my mother would always have us replace the shirts with traditional dress. I love that she’s unapologetic about her culture,” said Rahman.

The screen-printing on the clothes was completed by ‘A Team Arts’, an arts youth organisation in Tower Hamlets, London, where Rahman is also a tutor.

The hand-embroidered naturally dyed silk was made in partnership with ethical fair trade Bangladeshi organisation, Aranya. The embroidery was done by a group of women in Bangladesh. The ‘nakshi kantha’ stitch is a centuries-old Bengali tradition, typically used on traditional blankets sold in Bangladeshi markets for as little as 20p.

Rahman travelled to Bangladesh to explain his vision to the local craftspeople. “When I went there I didn’t to be this ‘Western saviour’ swooping in but I wanted to help redesign these heritage crafts,” he said. “I must learn about their craft and what they do before I can explain how I want to support it. In fact, I don’t think they understood my vision until I showed them the final product.”

As well as supporting the work of craftspeople in Bangladesh and people in his local community in Tower Hamlets, Rahman voices support for sustainability, the biggest issue confronting the fashion industry. “With sustainability, I think it is a responsibility for all new designers to have some aspect of it in their work or to be conscious of it. The world is dire and people can’t be part of the problem in 2019.”
Photographer: Jahied Ahmad. Courtesy of Rahemur Rahman.

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