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A Caribbean Couturier in Lewisham: Sylvia's Space and Contemporary Couture Workshop by Joy Prime

Updated: 5 days ago

Discover the forgotten textile legacies of Lewisham's Windrush Generation 14-28th October 2022 11am - 6pm, Monday to Saturday, Lewisham Shopping Centre

THE PEOPLE'S FASHION SHOW WILL BE ON 27TH OCTOBER, 6PM - 8PM

PUT ON YOUR BLUE SUEDE SHOES, AND TURN UP

IN FULL OLD SKOOL CARIBBEAN REGALIA



Black History month is celebrated in the United Kingdom every October, however this year, there is also another year long celebration in the Borough of Lewisham.


WE ARE LEWISHAM: London Borough of Culture 2022



"Step into Sylvia’s space, an interactive installation recreating the 1960s room where Caribbean couturier Sylvia Prime, lived, worked and raised her children. Lovingly curated by her daughter, Joy, the installation draws on memory, oral histories and family photographs from the Hummingbird Senior Citizen’s Club and the wider Caribbean community to tell the story of the Caribbean women who produced made-to-measure, couture gowns alongside their day jobs in Lewisham. The project is the culmination of a year-long project led by Joy Prime exploring the forgotten textile legacies of the women of the Windrush Generation who had a lasting impact on Britain's cultural landscape, but are largely excluded from the history of British Fashion.

Next to the installation is a contemporary making space where designers will be in residence, recreating mid-century, period couture garments. Come and watch them work, or, put your face through Windrush themed photo cut-out boards designed by artist, Nadine Walker.
A People’s Fashion Show on 27 October will bring the exhibition to a close, featuring original, mid-century made-to-measure garments modeled by community elders – full details and registration."

I was invited by my good friend Joy Prime, MA, BA (Hons), PGCE, Caribbean Fashion History Researcher, to be part of this wonderful experience. I didn't quite know the extent of what she had created , and I was pleasantly surprised when I went along for the first time last Friday, to get measured up and entered the exhibition space. I was initially told that she wanted me to model a garment for her as part of her exhibition, however, what I was not aware of (and I should have done my due diligence and researched the event) was the significance of the outfit she was creating.


Behind the concept of the couture dress that was being made from scratch, Joy Prime was using techniques, ideas, concepts and structural mechanisms to create 'Caribbean Couture'. This process is what those from the Windrush era, and before would have used. Processes that accurately represented her community, Her people, Her Story, Our story, Their Story. But most importantly one could say, Joy Prime was creating a masterpiece ... indeed she was, but I smile here because creating masterpieces were second nature to us, it was our secret language, maybe because it defiantly was stating:

"You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I'll rise.


Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I've got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?"


This exhibition was a 'Fashion ode' a celebration, an acknowledgment, an honouring to all those who went before us, who created some of the most incredible pieces of art in the form of Caribbean fashion, clothing, and design. Creatively adept, the imagination and skill of the Caribbean woman were second to none, and they wore those outfits with poise, grace and elegant simplicity making a statement to the world - 'you can forget us, you can write us out of your history books, you can ignore us, but this is who we are .' As my father used to say - there's more than one way to skin a cat.

Watching visitors enter into the exhibition space, it was interesting to how the arms of nostalgia drew them in. In the background on the radio those old time tunes were playing whilst in between we could hear Joy's mother, Sylvia, narrate her story and journey, along with the voices of Leo Ford and Mrs Butler. There were so many varied expressions and from people from different cultures and backgrounds and yet one thing they all seemed to have in common was a nostalgic reverence to an era that was powerfully significant in many ways.

There was also a sense of gratitude to Joy Prime for having taken something that was hidden and bringing it to life, because this was not just a showcasing of fashion, it was a remembering, a sacred honoring, a defiant honouring and an offering up to the ancestors to say 'thank you' for what you gave us and left us and I feel duty bound to tell your stories.' This was an exhibition that told stories of lived experiences, in a hostile environment, and yet these incredible human beings still strove to succeed, to look after their families, to continue to hold onto the idea that they were somebody. Determined to hold onto the remnants of their culture, their history, often times in one room that had one paraffin heater, a singer machine, a bed and a room full of people holding onto hope, as the lie revealed itself and faded into the single thread borne carpet, that 'the streets of London were paved with gold'.


The Exhibition space is constructed to show a room where many of those from the Windrush era, lived in. Small, confined, and restrictive, compared to the spacious surroundings they had back home in the Caribbean. In these spaces of confinement, these individuals raised families, cooked, washed, created dreams. The exhibition space consists of a singer machine, a paraffin heater, a wardrobe with grips on top, an old fashion tv and in the background, we can hear the voice of Joy's mother narrate her experiences on a radio, of living in one room with 4 children and how she converted her bed to her sewing space. There was a fire place with a mantlepiece and above it pictures of family in black and white.

Couture Dress in Process: Below I capture the process and steps that Joy Prime and her intern, Nicole are working on to create a Couture dress for me to wear on 27th October.

Joy Prime and Nicole working on my Couture Ball Gown




Watch this space as I post details of this journey, during the week, of a creative mastermind, Joy Prime and I salute her for bringing her vision and passion and love of the Caribbean and its culture to the forefront, where it rightly belongs.


INVITATION TO COME ALONG ON 27TH OCTOBER TO LEWISHAM SHOPPING CENTRE TO BE PART OF THE PEOPLES FASHION SHOW - COME IN YOUR WINDRUSH OUTFITS TO CELEBRATE CARIBBEAN COUTURE AND STRUT YOUR STUFF


For more details of The Exhibition visit:

https://www.wearelewisham.com/event/a-caribbean-couturier-in-lewisham/


Joy Prime https://www.linkedin.com/in/joy-prime-ma-ba-hons-pgce-04a704167/


Review written by Esther Austin


IF YOU WISH TO UNSUBSCRIBE FROM MY MAILING LIST, PLEASE CONTACT esther@estheraustinglobal.biz

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