Alva Wilson, Dressed Luton to The Nines as a Reflection of Black Heritage

“Dressed to the Nines”  by London-born visual artist, designer, maker, photographer, and teacher  Alva Clifford Wilson was celebrated on the 13 of October in Luton, Wardown House, Museum, and Gallery as part of Black History Month’s celebration. 

Alva shares how his heritage and Windrush have inspired his career throughout the years. 

Elegantly dressed, Alva was proud of his parents’ sense of dress in his storytelling.  Living in London in the early ’70s was difficult for any black boy. “I do remember being stopped several times by the Police for just being a black boy…”, he said. “I remember being told by the Police to not get involved in any trouble. …it was not even in my mind to be involved in trouble….I was really frightened…”. 

As far back as he can remember, Alva’s father insisted that he had to follow in his footsteps and inherit his business. At the age of 16,  followed her dream of becoming a fashion designer…” My dad wished me to inherit his successful construction company…”, he recalled. 

Alva’s sense of dressing reflects the way in which black experience has been shaped by cultural exchange, racial discrimination, and political disenfranchisement over the centuries, and how notions of Britishness have in turn been reshaped by the black community.

“I have had the most amazing childhood and the most amazing family…”. Holding a small women’s dress worn in the ’70s.

While Alva’s perspective is uniquely African the Caribbean and uniquely  London in the ’70s, snippets of his Windrush generation upbringing are more than evident in his work. Traditional millinery techniques mixed with a contemporary edge.  

His eyes lit up and became overwhelmed when describing his childhood. His work remains a vital testament to the cultural influence Britain’s black community has had on British society as a whole. 

Alva’s first collection was purchased by The Hat Shop in Covent Garden, London and this became his springboard to sell to other shops in the UK. He went to open ‘The Hat Gallery’ in 1998 at Broadway Market, Hackney E8, and was one of the pioneers who helped regenerate the now striving area. He uses recyclable materials to create headwear to bring environmental awareness. In 2019, he started his solo exhibition at Wardown museum & art gallery.

Reported by @JuniorBadila


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