The Cotton Tree is an exploration of heritage which is both inward and outward. Inward; it embodies strong roots systems stemming across generations. Outward; its technique and references are applied as totemic objects capturing the spirit of Sierra Leone. SS21 Labrum London takes us on a journey into the past in order to present a story of heritage, aesthetics and symbolism.
The Cotton Tree (Ceiba pentandra), also more commonly known as a kapok tree, is a historic symbol of the capital city of Sierra Leone, Freetown. According to legend, the “Cotton Tree” gained importance in 1792 when a group of former African American slaves who had gained their freedom by fighting for the British during the American War of Independence, settled in the site of modern Freetown. Upon landing on the shoreline, they walked up to a giant tree just above the bay where they held a Thanksgiving service, gathering around in a large group, praying and singing hymns to thank God for their deliverance to a free land on the soil of liberty and freedom. To this day, it is beneath these trees that Sierra Leoneans still pray and make offerings to their ancestors for peace and prosperity.
The Cotton Tree is also a symbol of the rainforests being our best defence against climate change. In light of global warming, forests are critical to the survival of every living thing on Earth; they are a source of air, water, shelter and medicine. A giant in the rainforests, kapok trees are known to be some of the first trees to colonise open areas in the forest, making this tree the first settler in the region.
This season, in honour of the Cotton Tree, traditional tailoring with a utilitarian attitude takes its cues from the British army silhouettes alongside traditional West African formalwear, identifiable by intricate prints detailing. A commissioned artwork by artist Alice Von Maltzahn is found digitally printed onto linen herringbone, whereby the artist took inspiration from the Sierra Leone national flag as the starting point for the drawings which reference Earth (green), Sea (blue) and Spirit (white). The symbol of the Cowrie shell represents the ocean and coastline; whilst the circle as a motif illustrates the patterns woven into fabrics made by different tribes over for centuries.
The Cotton Tree Jacket in particular conveys the story of the Cotton Tree through its design; the clasp fastener represents the tree’s roots, reinforcing their importance in the structure of the garment and within the country’s ecosystem. Buttons are crafted from ceramic and coconut shell, with intentional curves found on shirting plackets reminding us of Labrum’s continued ethos and approach to always go against the grain.
For the collection’s lookbook, Labrum designer Foday Dumbuya has joined forces with photographer Xavier Scott Marshall and long-term collaborator Ib Kamara. As art director and stylist for the campaign, Kamara looked to his hometown of Sierra Leone to create the warm tones and textures of the backdrop and objects used inspired by the idea of utilitarianism and migration. London-based poet, visual artist and Labrum creative director JulianKnxx presents an immersive visual poem inspired by life in Sierra Leone. Community remains central to Labrum, with the brands collective voices sharing the beauty of Africa with the western world through design & creative storytelling.
View the full collection on our Collections page.