To say that Bianca Saunders has been busy of late would be a mammoth understatement. Just two weeks before unveiling her SS21 collection The Ideal Man in September, the 27-year-old moved into her new studio at the Sarabande Foundation—part of Alexander McQueen’s legacy that provides scholarships to students and subsidised work spaces for new businesses. Then, she headed to Paris to take part in the group show Drawing a Blank, where she exhibited a sculptural work that continued her line of inquiry from previous seasons; garments fitted with wire inserts so that they hold their shape, as though inhabited by a body.
It was here that the Royal College of Art graduate received an invitation from Gucci to be part of GucciFest, a digital fashion and film festival. Running from 16 to 22 November, Alessandro Michele will unveil his new collection, entitled Ouverture of Something that Never Ended, through a seven episode mini-series co-directed by Gus Van Sant (1991’s My Own Private Idaho and 2008’s Milk) and starring performer Silvia Calderoni alongside singer-songwriters Billie Eilish, Florence Welch, Harry Styles and playwright Jeremy O. Harris. This new format stays true to the manifesto the creative director set out in May, when Gucci became the first brand to commit to a permanent overhaul of its runway shows in response to the pandemic. Now, in Michele’s words, his collections are “irregular, joyful, and absolutely free chapters,” unencumbered by gender and seasonality.
In tandem with this new collection, Gucci asked 15 independent designers to make films of their work to be screened as part of the event, of which Saunders is one. We spoke to her about what this recognition means and how, as a brand approaching its fourth anniversary, she managed to keep going in a year like no other.
How does it feel to be part of GucciFest and what has the project involved so far?
It feels like a big turning point for my brand. The project has been really independent, Gucci is providing us with a platform and exposing us to its audience. As a young brand, at a time when people are buying what is familiar to them, it’s really exciting to be celebrated by a house with such a big legacy.
For GucciFest, I’ve created a capsule collection for the film, which I’ve called The Pedestrian. It’s shot by Akinola Davies Jr, Karen Binns styled it and Mischa Notcutt did the casting. The whole thing was done in one month.
Wow, you really have been busy. What informed the designs of your capsule presented during GucciFest?
I wanted to make sure there was variation so that more men could wear my designs. I have quite a diverse range of customers in terms of age and profession; most are creative and interested in fashion, but I have people who work in finance, too.
Shoulder tucks and pads to create bigger silhouettes up top are becoming a trademark; I’m finding ways of doing a suit jacket without any canvassing, so there are more lightweight pieces, and, with the bold greens and blues, there’s more colour than usual.
For SS21, you were inspired by Hans Eijkelboom’s 1978 work The Ideal Man, in which the Dutch photographer constructed a series of ideal men based on feedback given by women. Does The Pedestrian build on this idea?
In The Pedestrian, the models speak about the things they like in their relationships, so it’s kind of flipping the concept of The Ideal Man. We asked things like, ‘What’s your favourite pick-up line?’, ‘If you have a partner how did you meet them?’ and ‘What’s your ideal date?’ My work is about character building; developing an aspirational vision of my customer.
The casting was really diverse—I wanted an Essex bloke, an older guy and Jermaine, who has modelled for me before. Mischa says that collaborating on my projects is different to anything else she’s working on. For AW20 and SS21, I asked the models to dance choreography [created by movement director] Saul Nash, and this time I asked them to see what they were like interacting with the camera. I don’t just ask them to walk backwards and forwards to see what they look like on the runway.
You’re self sufficient, but certainly not a solitary designer. What do you look for in collaborators?
That I can be honest with someone and they won’t be offended. That I can say how I feel. I like to work with people who want to move the brand forward—I can’t work with too many egos. If I have to change what I’m doing, I know it isn’t the right collaboration because [at the end of the day] this is my brand and it has to fit within my world and have my signature on it. That’s important.
2020 has been a challenging year to say the least, how have you remained inspired?
Lockdown made me grateful that I have the skills to do things by myself; if I had to hire loads of sewing-machine workers, it would have been more difficult. It was intense, I literally made the [SS21] collection in my living room. Once the new studio is in order, it’ll change everything—it’s a great space with a lot of light and it’s nice to have a place where you can invite people and do fittings.
I’m quite ambitious, and if my business has survived COVID-19, then I can survive anything. I’ve got to keep up that mentality because if I quit now, I’ll regret it!