There were huge challenges during that time, but I didn’t bow to them. I went to school in the 70s, when it was a difficult time to be a Black person. It was the time of the infamous ‘sus law’, when Black kids were getting stopped and searched at will. If that’s your everyday, you become accustomed to things like prejudice. Walking down the street as a Black person was challenging, so wearing a sharp suit was a way of protecting yourself. That’s one of the reasons I was drawn to tailoring – it symbolised a level of respectability.
There were only a few Black designers in Britain at the start of my career – people like the great Joe Casely-Hayford. For a long time, I was used to being the only Black man in the room. Sometimes there were two of us, maximum three. The benchmarks for success back then were Muhammad Ali, Michael Jackson and Mandela, who was in prison at the time. They were the three global figureheads, though there were also people like Lenny Henry in the UK. Thankfully, times have changed and the industry is more diverse. And it’s not just designers, it’s also stylists, fashion editors and make-up artists. It’s fantastic to see such change and the balance start to shift, but I want to see more. And I want to see more success.
Right now, tailoring is coming back. The suit is having a moment. A few years ago, a three-piece suit was not fashionable, but it’s finding itself again. The kind of tailoring I was working on 30 years ago is coming back; lines are sharper and stronger, having been softer and more casual. In the future, I think we’ll continue to wear defined shapes that showcase skill and craftmanship.