The real Bianca Saunders

2 Feb 2024


Words by Flora Macdonald Johnston

This time last year, British-Caribbean designer Bianca Saunders hosted her first runway in Paris - to much critical acclaim. With only two weeks to organise due to the world emerging from Covid, Saunders curated an intimate salon-style showcase where male models of varying ages walked in suits that were innately masculine and yet feminine. Cinched, stretched, tucked and draped, her suits are now easily recognisable - the Saunders silhouette. Having just won the coveted Andam prize (whose previous winners include Martin Margeila and Iris Van Herpen), Saunders received mentorship by Cedric Charbit, CEO of Balenciaga. “He taught me self-confidence, and to simply trust in my work,” says Saunders of the experience.

Fast foward 12 months and today we are in Saunders’ studio in Peckham, on the coldest day of the year so far. Dressed in an oversized bomber jacket, brushed wool skirt and chunky black boots paired with silver earrings, the menswear deisgner looks understated and effortlessly cool. The studio is filled with rails of neatly arranged pattern cuttings, a new design for a waistcoat is on a table - and sewing machines are tucked into a corner already threaded. It’s organised meticulously. But when speaking with Saunders you can see that’s how her brain works. She is considered, and not one to mince her words, each sentence stitched together neatly like the impeccable garments she creates.


Last year, which marked the fifth for the Saunders brand, was a pivotal moment not just for the label but for Saunders herself; “last year was a hard year. Everyone in the industry talks about the five year itch, that moment in time where a brand is at make or break with their business - it’s when you sink or swim. There’s that, but also the fact that the current climate in the fashion industry is so difficult right now. Just when I started to doubt myself, we won the BFC award and that solidified my mentality - I had to keep going. It’s nice to be celebrated, you know?".

To outsiders, but also young talent who look to Saunders, this statement might seem surprising. Saunders has risen in ways other designers can only dream of - from sneaking into backstage shows at Fashion Weeks in her teens to now being stocked in multiple stores across the world from Selfridges to Bergdorf’s and Harvey Nichols Dubai, with fans including Phoebe Philo and Louis Vuitton’s music director Benji B. But of course, the reality is always less glossy than the output.

“People don’t know that I'm here [in the studio] five days a week. I am always with the team. I am not absent in this process just because we are where we are.”

So how does the designer overcome her brand’s challenging moments and her own stress? “There's been loads of moments where I'm like, you know what, is this actually worth it? But I have a really good support system,” she says with a smile. “I have people in my life that tell me I can never give up - or say ‘look how far you have come’, ‘if you don't do this what will you do tomorrow?’ You need people like that around you.”


Now more than ever, it feels like this is needed for our young creatives within the industry - support. The landscape of 2024 is complex to say the least, from the cost of living crisis, the potential of AI, removal of tax-free shopping and climate change, designers are facing an uncertain future. But despite all of this, for Saunders, she is steadfast in her vision, there will be no compromise.

Saunders will soon celebrate her six year anniversary, and for this she will be planning an intimate dinner with family and friends of the brand. There will be no Soho House like previous years, she will be celebrating her home - her roots - South-East London, and her mum, a pivotal part to her network will be cooking for her guests. “She always cooks for us backstage at shows, she has always been there from the beginning, so coming together on this feels 360, my mum really is such a part of the brand.”


Saunders did not show on the men's schedule this January, instead choosing to focus her financing in defining the essence of her brand, and solidifying its future. A smart move when you consider runway shows cost designers tens of thousands. “I had a call with someone recently - another designer, and they wanted to do a show and I was like, but is the show going to make money? That's the big part about it, shows are so expensive, so it's got to have a big return for your brand, a return on investment.”

When quizzed on the pressure of shows Saunders replies, “Shows should happen when you have important things to say. And when it makes people feel something. Not every collection needs to have a show attached to it.” Sound advice.

So what has Saunders got planned ? “I am focusing on my new collection, and campaign, but I am also in the process of creating a book.” When pressed on this subject Saunders tells me she can’t speak more on this just yet. We will all have to wait and see.


Saunders reveals she will also collaborate with other artists this year, as well as create a stronger sense of community. “I feel like my brand's had that for a long time,” she muses “but I want to cultivate this further. It’s important to show more of the actual culture around the brand, how I actually live, and how I like to entertain people.”

So, what will the year hold for the menswear designer? “You’ll see, I'm on my own path.”