Hot off the heels of her debut runway collection, Anika Leila, 23, a British South Asian designer, is making waves at London’s well-known fashion college Central Saint Martins. Her collection “Anika’s Odyssey” from her eponymous label is inspired by a childhood pastime.
The game centers around a young girl interacting with a variety of creatures and monsters while looking for her lost toy bunny. The faces of the monsters stayed with Leila and inspired the aesthetic for her line. “The monsters are a continuation of a longterm fascination I have with weird and wonderful drawings from when I was little,” she tells POPSUGAR on the set of a photo shoot. “I used elements of this childhood game to contextualize my personal life, narcissism, and how I could physically represent various forms of manipulation.”
“The moment I started to look at my personal life and use it for inspiration is when I started to think [my brand] could go somewhere.”
Leila has already been tapped to create several custom pieces for a major celebrity (she won’t divulge who just yet). And while this could result in an inflated ego or a sense of entitlement, she is remarkably humble, exuding calm despite the grueling demands of attending a prestigious university.
During her time at CSM, Leila’s small-batch tops, featuring her signature monster faces, amassed a following on Twitter and Instagram — particularly during lockdown.
Growing up, she watched her grandmother make clothing by hand, as is customary in Punjabi-Indian culture. Today, that practice shapes her brand ethos; it’s part of the reason Leila doesn’t depend on machinery to create prints, as several other fashion brands do. Instead, she receives calls at 2 a.m. from a local family that collects textile waste in the famous South Asian immigrant hub of Southall, West London, where she gets first pick of high-quality fabrics.
Next, Leila hand-sews and hand-prints every garment. She sources secondhand and expired makeup products to create many of the prints, which can take up to five years to develop. Her sealant prevents the makeup from smudging the garments.
“I’ve gotten so many donations from my Instagram and Twitter followers, friends, stylists, and even their clients who get tons of makeup that will go to waste,” Leila says. “I’ll gather that makeup, explore what colors I can use, which shades of foundation I have, and what types of mascara I have — because they’re all different formulas and consistencies. Then, I will hand-paint either a print or directly onto a garment.”
Her inventive approach to design and fabrication makes her stand out in a crowded industry. Leila says she was able to carve a unique path for herself once she started drawing inspiration from her personal life. “My [CSM] tutors know I have the habit of doing projects on other people’s stories rather than focusing on my own. I think it’s a defense mechanism that I’ve grown into, but I don’t think it’s helpful. The moment I started to look at my personal life and use it for inspiration is when I started to think [my brand] could go somewhere.”
Ahead, take in the full “Anika’s Odyssey” collection.
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