Riz Ahmed’s Awards-Season Style Is ‘About Identity, Not Fashion’

In Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal, British actor Riz Ahmed portrays Ruben, a heavy-metal drummer who slowly begins to lose his hearing. It’s a powerful role that earned Ahmed a Golden Globes nomination last night for best actor in a drama motion picture. No doubt it was a challenging character to prepare for: Ahmed had to learn both the art of drumming and American Sign Language for the part. “I learned the true meaning of the word listening,” Ahmed tells Vogue. “The deaf people that I hung out with are the best listeners in the world. Listening isn’t something you just do with your ears—it’s something you do with your energy and your body.”

Ahmed found that the process of learning drumming was an entirely different beast. “[Sign language] was challenging but really sociable and joyous. It’s about connecting with other people,” Ahmed says. “[Learning] drums was much more psychological. You lock yourself in a room for two or three hours a day, hitting something with all your strength. You’re tapping into a primal instinct that we all have.”

At last night’s Golden Globes, Ahmed tuned in virtually to celebrate the film, which is also getting Oscar buzz. Despite the fact that he is no stranger to the awards circuit, Ahmed says it’s been a strange experience navigating this year’s digital awards. “There’s this surreal disconnect between what’s happening onscreen and the setup around it,” Ahmed says. “It’s almost like being on a film set—what’s being captured on the screen is one thing, but the reality is you’ve got a camera up in your face.” With no red carpets, how he’s gotten dressed for the ceremonies has been adjusted too. “The way you dress is more about how you want to feel and what you want to inhabit, rather than what you want to present to others,” Ahmed says. “It’s been interesting to see how people have been leaning into different shapes and materials, combining tailoring with more casual streetwear.”  

Riz Ahmed’s Golden Globes look by CelinePhoto: Courtesy of Celine
Riz Ahmed’s Golden Globes look by CelinePhoto: Courtesy of Celine

For the Golden Globes, Ahmed played into this more casual-cool vibe. He sported a look by Celine, styled by Julie Ragolia, that struck the perfect balance between laid-back and dressed up: a spiffy pinstripe suit complete with a roll-neck sweater and crisp white sneakers. He was drawn to the outfit’s relaxed approach to formalwear, something he says he can get away with this year. “The pinstripe material is a nod to tradition, it feels like formalwear, but the fit and the way it’s designed to be worn open breaks it down into something more free and fun,” he says. 

The actor, in general, enjoys approaching fashion through a thoughtful lens. Both he and Ragolia agree clothing can be a vessel to represent your history. Ahmed’s family hails from Pakistan, but the actor grew up in Britain, and he says these combined histories play a big part in what he enjoys wearing today. “For me, it’s never been about fashion, it’s been about identity,” he says. “I don’t like the idea of stepping into a standard silhouette. I’m someone who has a hybrid identity that goes across cultures and classes, so in a way I always want that reflected in the clothing that I wear.” Ragolia adds that we’ll be seeing more of this approach—that is, twisting classic men’s codes—this awards season. “There are so many stories to share about the culture in which he lives and creates,” she says. “Clothes, for me, have a similar resonance, which brings an added importance to my choices.”

As for what we’ll be seeing from Ahmed once awards season wraps? The star just began his own production company, Left Handed Films, and he will be focusing on some work behind the camera too. “I’m really excited to empower some amazing artists, showrunners, and filmmakers that are coming up right now,” he says. “Our mantra is go left—do stuff that you’re not used to seeing onscreen, and tell those stories in fresh ways.