LONDON — After securing this year’s ANDAM Fashion Prize and becoming a finalist for the LVMH Prize for Young Designers, British men’s designer Bianca Saunders is ready to enact the five-year plan she presented in front of the ANDAM judges. Her goal is to scale the brand and craft a distinctive identity with the launch of new categories, including accessories and footwear.
“They were really interested in the growth,” she said of the ANDAM judges. “They saw that with the extra support and help I’ll be able to take it to the next level.”
The designer attributed her win to the spring 2022 collection, which she described in an interview as “a lot more sophisticated, and a lot more redefined compared to previous seasons.”
With the 300,000-euro prize money and a yearlong mentorship from Balenciaga chief executive officer Cédric Charbit beginning in September, Saunders believes she will be working more in Paris, and eventually move her operation there.
“I’ve always had that vision. I want to become a household name. Being in Paris is what really gives you more international credibility. My dream has come true really quickly, but at the same time, it actually hasn’t. The brand has been going on for three years, so I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I want to achieve in fashion,” she said, adding that she might consider doing women’s wear, but that will be something very far down the line.
Saunders admitted that her brand currently does not have any recognizable pieces that enjoy the same level of popularity as Craig Green’s padded jacket or Stefan Cooke’s slashed sweater, but she believes that’s about to change.
She is confident that with the spring 2022 collection, which will be her London Fashion Week runway debut, people will be able to spot certain recurring details, such as the way she constructs shoulders, sleeves and trousers.
“Bianca Sanders is not a heavily branded brand. I want to make quality products. For the most popular brands right now it’s all about not being heavily branded,” she said.
“I feel like people have their own understanding of what Bianca Saunders actually is. In the beginning, people saw me as this woman designing men’s wear. Then people saw the presentation style. They were interested in the design and concept I produced. That anticipation of seeing what I’ll do next has helped the brand to grow,” she added.
The designer is also not shy about her ambition of, one day, taking up a creative director role at a top luxury house, preferably Hermès or Celine.
“That’s always been part of my long-term goal,” she said: “That’s partially the reason why I did the MA at Royal College of Art because I have a creative director dream.
“I just love the fact that there is so much history to both brands. Their archives must be so crazy. They basically just covered everything that you need to do as a brand. A color that’s associated with a brand, having material, having a shape, and also have the connection to popular culture,” she added.
She honored to be the first Black designer as well as one of the smallest brands in recent years to win the ANDAM Fashion Prize, and she is happy to see that there is an increasing number of Black designers doing amazing work in fashion.
“What’s amazing is that every Black designer’s brand is quite different. Everyone’s able to exist within their own nature. There’s not so much rigidity to what we would expect from people. It’s quite nice to see what people like Samuel Ross are doing, how much he has grown the brand, and become a really pivotal person in fashion along with everyone else,” she said.
“But when I think about my own journey, I can’t really think of people like me who existed before me. I find it quite difficult. But now is a life-changing moment to be a part of fashion, be a part of a movement for change in fashion.”
Saunders has formed a close bond with another LVMH Prize nominee, Christopher John Rogers, over this shared experience.
“I haven’t met him in person, but we have spoken loads on FaceTime and Zoom. To us it is really weird — it’s almost like creating your own name, your own existence without thinking about someone who came out years before you. You kind of just have to be really confident in what you’re doing,” she added.
Her brand is now stocked at places like Selfridges, Matchesfashion, Farfetch, Browns, Ssense, Nordstrom, GR8 and Machine-A, and Saunders is expecting that the number of stockists will triple next season. The brand also operates its own e-commerce site. North America and Switzerland are two of its biggest direct-to-consumer markets.
Born and raised in Brockley, a southeast London neighborhood between Lewisham and Peckham, Saunders is the second eldest daughter of six children and she still lives with her second-generation British Jamaican parents. Her elder sister just finished her business degree, while one of her younger sisters is studying journalism at London College of Communication.
Her mother is a beautician, and the creator of Saunders’ impeccable hairdos.
From a very young age, Saunders said she has been very focused on making something out of her creativity.
“I wanted to do something that was different and could make me happy every day. I cannot imagine myself doing anything that’s not hands-on or creative. Fashion is definitely the right way to kind of combine all creative skills,” she added.
Upon completing her foundation course at Ravensbourne University, she enrolled at Kingston University to study fashion design, while taking up internships at Jonathan Saunders, KTZ and Preen. Later, she acquired a master’s degree at Royal College of Art in 2017 under course director Zowie Broach and Ike Rust, then senior tutor of men’s wear.
“I had the idea from the beginning that I wanted to do a brand. Doing MA was kind of a way to discover my own aesthetic,” she said.
For her graduation collection, Saunders drew inspiration from where she lived and the impact of gentrification.
“It’s always something that was about my own experiences,” she explained. “I think as the brand develops, I’ve also thought more about myself within the brand and how I exist. My brand is very much always about observing. Observing men’s movement. Their gestures and body language usually give off the energy of femininity and masculinity.
“When I’m designing, I think about familiar things or making something for myself, but then having a slight twist to it, sort of like reclaiming the shoulder line a bit more or minimizing zips. Visible zips and that sort of stuff are not really my thing.
“And I think about what I want the men wearing my clothes to feel. I want them to feel confident and sexy. I feel like that’s really important for me because I feel like sometimes with fashion people, they forget that men want to feel sexy as well to feel luxurious,” she added.
Saunders showed at London Fashion Week for the first time in 2018 as a part of the emerging designer support scheme Newgen and has been showing continuously in the form of presentations and videos. Last year, she moved her studio from her bedroom to the Sarabande Foundation in East London, which was founded by the late Lee Alexander McQueen.
She now employs one production assistant and three interns, but with the fresh cash injection, Saunders is looking to expand her team and move to a bigger, permanent studio space next year — and maybe even move out of her parents’ house.
She told WWD earlier this year that her main aim for the brand is to create a balanced world where “the really over-masculine guy and effeminate guy” can coexist. But following the ANDAM win, Saunders said it has been “a massive thought process,” as she reconfigures exactly how she wants to present the brand to a much bigger audience.
She added that Bianca Saunders is a brand that “anyone can wear,” as well as a hybrid of streetwear and tailoring that pays attention to craft and makes people feel as if the item that they’re wearing is a part of their wardrobe — and not made for someone else.
The adjustment in brand direction also came after she was contacted by a prospective customer who works in finance.
“He was a lot older than I thought my customer was. He was, like, ‘I really want to wear your stuff, but I thought I might be too old for it.’ So then I started to think if an older guy in finance wants to wear my stuff. I should have that customer.
“So when I did that film with Gucci as a part of their film festival, the cast and range were quite good. Older guys were wearing my stuff. I thought I could show people more vision to see that this is not just a brand for young people, mature men can also look good in it too,” she said.
The designer has also collaborated with Wrangler and the Turkish ethical denim supplier Isko for several seasons. She will be releasing a collaborative collection with the British men’s wear label Farah for spring 2022.
Saunders described the Farah capsule as a combination of “the nuances of masculinity together with the influences of my Caribbean heritage.” Inspired by the brand’s archive, she explored ways to push forward the signature cuts and silhouettes of the brand with her own techniques.