Grace Wales Bonner

Grace Wales Bonner

Interview:
Nico Jacobsen

Grace Wales Bonner graduated from Central Saint Martins, London in 2014, and went on to win the prestigious LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers only two years later. Her success has surprised few, with collection after collection striking the finest balance between thoughtfulness and beauty. Within her clothing, references, inspirations, and collaborators, one finds a sense of the designer’s insatiable thirst for knowledge — and as her intellect continues to grow, surely her eponymous line will grow with it.

Nico:

London is a city with a style largely defined by those who immigrated there. Your FW17 collection was filled with personal takes on clothing associated with Jamaican sound system culture, whereas your SS18 collection felt more connected to Lagos, Nigeria’s singular street style scene. Do you intentionally look to a specific culture each time you design, or is your work just a natural product of being raised in such a diverse city?

Grace:

With the work, it is an attempt to focus in on black culture as a source of continued study and inspiration — it is not a seasonal interest for me. What I am most interested in is the intersection between cultures as a place to create new meaning.

Designs by Grace Wales Bonner

N:

Your SS18 show was titled ‘Blue Duets’ — it was presented alongside strong blue lighting, and included a blue painting by Chris Ofili as well a nude portrait by Carl Van Vechten that was colored blue. Can you tell us a bit about your decision to focus on a color with such strong emotional and historical implications?

G:

The collection was about exploring a blue mood. One of the starting points was reading about David Hammons’ exhibition, Concerto in Black and Blue, where he invited guests to navigate the Ace Gallery’s space through blue flashlights. I thought it could be interesting to perceive some of my references through blue light. It kept occurring in the research.

N:

David Hammons appreciated Italy’s Arte Povera movement for what he perceived as an uncanny ability to turn nothingness into something. Do you think starting at nothing is still possible in the modern era of commercial fashion?

Designs by Grace Wales Bonner

G:

There are practical requirements, so I don’t know if it’s possible. To create what I do, I am well aware of the many people and hands I rely on to help me realize my vision.

N:

Your SS16 range revolved around the story of Malik Ambar, an Ethiopian ex-slave that went on to be a ruler in Western India, and your AW18 offering focused on the tale of a sailor lost at sea. Do you think your love of literature has contributed to your narrative-driven approach to design? Does each person who walks down your runway represent a specific character in your mind?

Designs by Grace Wales Bonner

G:

I often have a character and a world in mind when developing the collections, and there are some characters that reappear through collections. I am sure that literature helps me to understand a character’s psychology, but I come to understand them also through music, conversations, and real people that inspire me every day.

N:

Your collections often feel inspired by periods that possessed pockets of exceptional sexual openness, with FW17’s detailing akin to the attire of 16th-century Florence and with other seasons boasting nods to the Harlem Renaissance and the dress of 1970s fringe groups. Do you think the openness represented in your collections is indicative of the current time, or are you hoping they will be a catalyst for change in a time of relative repression?

Designs by Grace Wales Bonner

G:

Generally I am interested in spaces that allow people to freely negotiate the boundaries of their own representation. I feel like this connects with many like-minded people, and I’m excited about being in New York for the launch in what seems like a place that is very liberated.

N:

The aforementioned Carl Van Vechten prints included in your SS18 collection were taken between 1930 and 1960 here in New York. You’ve also expressed your appreciation for the writer Hilton Als, who has forever altered this city’s relationship with fine art. Are their any other oft-overlooked corners of New York’s history that you have taken inspiration from?

Designs by Grace Wales Bonner

G:

I guess I’m most interested in what’s happening now in New York and the sense of freedom and flexibility of the city that I feel here. The youth in New York are most inspiring to me, and I feel like there are important conversations being had here which help me consider my place in society.

N:

The visual artist Eric Mack provided the backdrop for your FW18 runway show and is also designing work for your in-store event at Totokaelo. You’ve also worked with groundbreaking musician Elysia Crampton, the talented young photographer and filmmaker Harley Weir, and many more era-defining artists. Can you tell us a bit about what you look for in a collaborator? What was it about their work that you felt reflected the ethos of your brand?

G:

I think all the collaborators I have worked with have taught me more about what Wales Bonner is, and how it can communicate. I guess I am interested in people who have a different perspective to my own, and different skills, but who also have a common goal in mind.

Designs by Grace Wales Bonner

N:

Fashion’s focus on youth has been overwhelming in the past few years, yet you said you design primarily with older customers in mind. Is this an intentional practice or just how you’ve noticed you work?

G:

I feel like I design for people who think beyond trends and are looking for something more timeless. It’s not necessarily about age, as I feel like younger people can have that kind of mentality too.

  • Portrait Photographer: JAMIE MORGAN AT SERLIN ASSOCIATES
  • Editorial Photographer: ELLIOTT JEROME BROWN JR.
  • Stylist: MATT HOLMES
  • Models: TAWAN & BRANDY
  • Featuring the work of ERIC N. MACK