The Museum of London has acquired an ensemble from London fashion designer Tihara Smith’s ‘Windrush collection’ along with a suit owned by her grandfather. Both pieces, and oral histories recorded for the museum by Tihara, her mother and her grandfather have been made available to explore on the Museum of London website to mark Windrush Day 2021.
Designed as part of Smith’s UCA Epsom graduate collection in 2018, and selected for display at Graduate Fashion Week, the outfit specifically references the story of her grandfather Lazare Sylvestre, who arrived in the UK from St. Lucia in 1958 as part of the Windrush generation.
Smith’s designs reference the traditional crafts of St Lucia and are influenced by West Indian front rooms, which are known for elaborate decoration and ornamental objects, as well as the work of British photographer Neil Kenlock, who famously photographed the British Black Panther Party.
These influences can be seen throughout Smith’s design, particularly on the raffia vest hand embroidered with the words ‘Black and British,’ accompanied by a Black Power fist and the red lion symbol of England. The vest is paired with a shirt made from a tablecloth purchased in Peckham Market, and flared 1970s style denim culottes. Together, these details, within the wider context of the work, are representative of the experience of her grandfather, Lazare Sylvestre, and so many other Black British Londoners at that time.
The suit also acquired, owned by Smith’s grandfather Sylvestre, was designed and made for him by a close friend Winceslas ‘Winston’ Giscombe, a tailor originally from Kingston, Jamaica who came to the UK in 1947 on a ship called the Ormonde, a year before the Windrush arrived in 1948.
Tihara Smith said: “I am so excited to have an outfit from my graduate ‘Windrush collection’ acquired by the Museum of London. My grandfather has always been a stylish man with an interest in clothes and this has had a great influence on my work. My vision for the collection was to put a positive spin on the negative Windrush coverage that dominated the news in 2018 and instead share the incredible contributions that people like my grandfather and Winston made to our city in a unique and personal way. I’m so pleased that my work will play a part in telling all of our stories to Museum of London visitors for years to come.”
Lucie Whitmore, Curator of Fashion at the Museum of London, said: “These very special acquisitions tell a powerful story of the creativity, skill and culture that came to London with the Windrush generation. Furthermore, they tell the story of how that creativity has been passed down through the generations of Londoners, culminating with Tihara’s wonderfully evocative design inspired by her own Caribbean-London heritage. Fashion designers and makers in London have always been diverse, and the 20th century in particular saw the arrival of Black and Asian communities who have made such signification contributions but are so often underrepresented in museum collections. We are honoured to have acquired both Tihara Smith’s and Winston Giscombe’s designs and they will allow us to tell more representative stories about London’s fashion industry as we look ahead to creating a new museum for London.”