The Designer Bringing Traditional Sri Lankan Craftsmanship to Fashion Week

Sri Lankan designer Amesh Wijesekera presents his namesake label at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Berlin Autumn/Winter 2019 | Courtesy of Karla Otto
Picture of Sarah Leigh Bannerman
Fashion Editor
Updated: 21 January 2019
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Sri Lanka’s fashion scene is changing. Traditionally, retailers considered the country as a manufacturing hub, meaning its designers fell under the radar. Now, local newcomer Amesh Wijesekera is leading the movement as he brings his London-based label to Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Berlin for the first time.

Amesh Wijesekera was a compelling addition to Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week (MBFW) in Berlin’s schedule. The event is renowned for supporting local talent, but Wijesekera’s namesake label is London-based and inspired by his Sri Lankan heritage. The 2019 event marked the first time he had brought his work to Germany.

“I’m bringing a bit of Sri Lankan sunshine to Berlin,” he says. “It’s winter here now and it’s so grey. My collection is all about colour and texture. It’s very experimental, but I hope that there’s something in it for everyone.”

Amesh Wijesekera’s designs are inspired by his Sri Lankan heritage
Courtesy of Karla Otto

Inclusivity is the key message behind the brand, which is currently in its first season since Wijesekera graduated from the Academy of Design Sri Lanka in 2017. His university work was spotted by Mercedes-Benz Fashion Talents (MBFT) and consequently won awards at Graduate Fashion Week in London the following year. MBFT is the reason he’s here. The programme gives emerging talent from across the globe the chance to present at one of its 90-plus fashion weeks and to reach new markets.

“Clothes are more than just clothes,” he says. “They convey expression and emotion. How you wear something is all about personality and it can say a lot about who you are as a person.” He emphasises the importance he places on gender-neutral designs, a trend that has also been embraced by the likes of Gucci and Haider Ackermann.

The designer was spotted by Mercedes-Benz Fashion Talents in 2017
Courtesy of Karla Otto

Growing up in Sri Lanka, Wijesekera felt very aware of how society expected men and women to dress. Despite coming from a liberal family with modern values, the designer was strongly affected by this issue, which he aims to address with his work.

“I like the idea of a shared wardrobe,” he says. “Society has given us labels like ‘pink is for girls and blue is for boys’, but it shouldn’t be that way. I go into the men’s section of shops and I find it so depressing. Where’s all the colour?”

Wijesekera works with Sri Lankan weavers and hand-knitters on his gender-neutral designs
Courtesy of Karla Otto

It’s one of the reasons he has chosen to base his brand in London, a city that he deems diverse, eclectic and exciting. This, combined with authentic Sri Lankan craftsmanship, is what distinguishes his aesthetic. He works closely with skilled weavers and hand-knitters, travelling frequently between Sri Lanka and the UK to oversee production and finalise designs.

“Sri Lanka has a very rich craft heritage,” he says. “What makes it so special is the amount of resources at our disposal. At college, I was always exposed to what the country could offer me as a designer. It’s where some of the biggest brands in the world make their clothing, but it has never been known as a design hub.”

Amesh Wijesekera’s show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Berlin Autumn/Winter 2019
Courtesy of Brauer Photos / M Nass for Mercedes-Benz

Now, Wijesekera is bringing something new to the local artisans. By adding unfamiliar fabrics to their repertoire, he hopes to further their skills and elevate their craft. His debut collection features a mash-up of rich fabrics, woven with a metallic finish, psychedelic prints perfected in London and traditional Sri Lankan jewellery. “I mix high-tech with something raw,” he says. “I want to prove that ‘craft’ doesn’t have to mean ‘beige’.”

The designer hopes to highlight what his home country has to offer the fashion world
Courtesy of Brauer Photos / M Nass for Mercedes-Benz

Meaningful, inspirational and uplifting, this is a brand with depth and a real future ahead of it. Refreshingly, it’s not just his name that Amesh Wijesekera hopes will become better known; his ultimate goal is to highlight what Sri Lanka has to offer the fashion world. “It’s about the people who I get to take on this journey with me,” he says. “Individuals inspire me and collaborations are the way forward. My label is about a sharing of knowledge. I bring the design, but it’s the skills of the artisans that make what we have to offer so special.”

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