In a theatre space echoing with the soundtrack of crashing waves and coastal hustle and bustle, contrasted with tooting horns and rumbling traffic, yesterday evening, Saul Nash took his show to the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Closing a sparse June London Fashion Week in the capital, Saul presented a sun-soaked collection that drew from the easy-breezy island life he found while visiting Mauritius and Barbados, with the grit of his hometown in Britain’s metropolis. Backdropped by a hazy horizon, the runway was transformed into a sandy beach where models-cum-dancers took to the stage.

In signature Saul style, sportswear was given an artist’s edge. Looks featured wetsuits, swimming hats and goggles worn with athletic separates rendered in azure blue, fuchsia,  yellow and burnt orange, all mirroring the sunset setting. The models carried beach towels, which they laid down and danced around in fluid, choreographed movements. The collection was an apt example of how the dancer, performer, creative director, choreographer and fashion designer, seamlessly intertwines his talents under his namesake fashion brand.

Saul, who hails from North London has cultivated a career and carved a name for himself in London’s competitive fashion scene, staying loyal to his blurring of luxury fashion and sportswear; creating clothes that balance form and function – and fundamentally, allow movement and provide comfort.

Whether inspired by the dance studios or streets of London, each season Saul delves into the deeply personal, piecing together the parts of his life that have shaped him. Past collections have seen the designer look to his school years, blending uniforms with sportswear, and juxtapose the ski slopes with inner-city living.

Over the past few years, since flying the nest of incubator Fashion East, Saul has indeed spread his wings. Joining the BFC NEWGEN support scheme, Saul was awarded ​​the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design last May, just 10 days after taking home the 2022 International Woolmark Prize. These accolades are hardly surprising upon meeting the designer, who speaks candidly about his work, with a grin illuminating his face. Saul captures London’s rumbling creative scene but also glances across the oceans for inspiration close to his own heart.

Because caught up with Saul in the warm-up to his spring/summer 2024 show…

Can you tell us a bit more about your spring/summer 2024 collection…
Titled ‘Intersections’, the idea kind of came from a recent DNA test I did. I was quite surprised by some of the results that came out of it and I started to think about both my parents’ backgrounds. My mum is Guyanese and Bajan and my Dad is Mauritian and English. And I realised when I went to Mauritius, there are a lot of intersections in the culture between the different places, but what was interesting is a lot of it resides around the sea, which got me thinking about the summer and how you feel when you're around the ocean. So, I really wanted to use this collection to look at watersports, but also look at the intersections between the two cultures and via the sea.

When you're from London, and you can visit those countries in your Western attire, you feel connected to them, but you also stand out. So it was interesting to present colour palettes and silhouettes inspired by this place, but they also are still very anchored in London and where I grew up, because I always speak through my own perspective.

How has your background as a performer and dancer influenced your approach to design?
I've always done it since I was young, there was always music in my home. Later on, I went on to study for my Bachelor's in performance design and practice at Central Saint Martins. There you could literally do anything you wanted as long as you showed it within your performance. So I was really drawn to it because it was about creating a world and a mood. And I think that really transcends into my work now. The difference is that my garments move out into the world, they're not costumes that stay in the performance space, they extend into the wider community.

Why is this idea of fostering community so pertinent and important in your work?
I think I've always been drawn to expressing identity, but also challenging preconceived ideas surrounding identity. Growing up, if I'd wear a tracksuit to the theatre, people would often look at me differently, and I think when I got into sportswear, I was really interested in questioning the preconceived views about the people that wear it.

What's beautiful, particularly with the dance community, is that my work can provide a platform. Most of the dancers would never have walked on a runway, so it's really special to be able to bring people who surround me into my work; they are people that truly understand what my work is about. It's beautiful to go on the journey together.

Your work has always been dedicated to sportswear. How do you seek to reinvent it? How do you put your own Saul Nash spin on it?
I think in today’s world most things have been done already, and there's only so far you can go with things in sportswear. So striving to create something completely new is not something I strive for. My work is more about expressing myself, and through self-expression, and telling my story a new perspective is presented to the world.

Why do you think that collaboration is such an important facet of the brand?
I think it's essential because firstly, you can't really do everything on your own. And I think that the beauty of collaboration is about opening yourself up to other ideas. Collaborating with musicians, dancers and set, sound and lighting designers on my shows, has completely shifted how I perceive things. It feeds and builds the work when bounced off of one another and shows you things that maybe you didn't see before.

Winning the International Woolmark Prize and the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design, in the same year, have been massive achievements in the last year of your career. How do you think they have shaped your work? And what do they mean to you, personally, and professionally?
It was quite a shocking moment for me when that happened because it all happened in such a short space of time. What was really incredible about winning the Woolmark prize, was that I really wanted to push knitwear and the use of wool in my work, and winning the prize allowed that. It enabled me to open up new categories within my work, and I've always wanted to experiment with this incredible material and how it works within a performance context. It definitely helped me to expand the dialogue of Saul Nash.

Your runway presentations are often self or co-choreographed and focus on movement. How do you approach the integration of movement and fashion on the runway?

I’m always striking a balance between form and function. In my own wardrobe, I might have designer pieces, or I might buy pieces that I find functional, but I think they both complement my lifestyle. Say if I was going to dance, is it something I could wear if I had to go meet a friend straight afterwards? It's about creating something that can adapt to different occasions. It's about being comfortable, whether you’re playing football or at a wedding, my clothes are cut for the liberation of movement. It doesn't really matter in which context, they are for freedom.

What are your aspirations for the future? What are the hopes for the Saul Nash brand?
I do have a dream of one day creating a theatre show – that's always been on my mind. But other than that, I’d like to continue to steadily build the brand and grow the team that surrounds it. I always think there's a lot more to do. I never hit a glass ceiling. I just keep moving forward.

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