Menswear Metaphysics: GRACE WALES BONNER’s Bejeweled Visions

At the start of a new calendar year, the collective yearning for mystical and astrological assurance that has recently reappeared in our cultural consciousness takes form at the crossroads of art and fashion in Grace Wales Bonner’s “A Time for New Dreams,” newly opened at the Serpentine Gallery in London. On view until February 16, the designer’s trans-disciplinary exhibition is a shrine to non-wired connectivity, highlighting carefully researched spiritual traditions to create a zone immune to the exigencies of time. And where does time collapse more quickly than in fashion? It’s a dislocation Wales Bonner reflected on in a 2014 interview with 032c.com – republished below.

Photo: Paul Mpagi Sepuya

GRACE WALES BONNER is a young British menswear designer and recent graduate of London’s Central Saint Martins whose BA collection won her the L’Oréal Professionel Talent Award following the show. A thoroughly-researched blend of 70s Nigerian flair and western decadence, her designs eschew the gender binary and create a new vision for a fluid present while alluding to the past. 032c commissioned an editorial with the designer, featuring photography by Brett Lloyd and an accompanying mix by PC Music’s Finn Diesel.

DARRYL NATALE: You’ve gotten a lot of attention since debuting your line. How do you deal with the pressure to keep up with the hype cycle? 

GRACES WALES BONNER: The speed makes me anxious. If something is being produced too quickly, there has been no time to think about the idea, which I find quite problematic. Good things take time.

This collection was accompanied by your 10,000 word dissertation for CSM, which is quite a departure from the typical press release. How important is it for you to develop a critical framework around the collections your designing?

I think the subject matter I am dealing with has to be approached sensitively. I want to come from an informed position. I aim to interpret or work through critical arguments around representation through the images I create, so in some ways the outcome becomes a translation of the different narratives I engage with in the research process.

Do you think fashion is lacking an academic aspect? 

I don’t know if fashion needs to be or should be academic. I think it can be purely aesthetic and I am into things being just beautiful. In fact that’s probably better. As a reference point I am looking at black culture, so it’s vital for me to have some understanding of the critical history. I am so inspired by this evolution, and the artists, thinkers, and musicians who allow me to have this position of creative freedom, so I feel I must take some responsibility for what I am trying to say and how that relates to the story. Beyond fashion, I want to be part of this conversation.

Do you feel like you have to continue on a similar trajectory to your first collection?

I want next season to be an extension of my first collection, but to go deeper into exploring the history of black representation and engaging with my position within this framework.

I hope with each collection I can build upon the foundations I laid out with my graduate collection. I often start sentences in the middle, as if people already understand the context and I guess that’s how I’d like to approach it, assuming you already know.

Grace Wales Bonner, "The love in which I wash." Photo: by Harley Weir

Have you been to Nigeria, or was this purely a research-based project?

I travelled around Ghana, which is where I became more interested in African literature and really fell in love with a way of living and seeing. For me it was also tied up with trying to understand my own heritage, as being half Jamaican and not really being able to trace further than that, the connection to Africa is often quite ambiguous.

Nigeria is frequently billed as “the next luxury market,” but the first to the market are always the multinational brands like Zegna or Boss, which leave little room for regional influences. Do you think that taking such specific regional references as you have could inhibit your ability to reach a broad audience?

I was talking about this the other day with a friend from the Gambia who said that I had an advantage because Nigerians don’t see Nigerian designers as being sophisticated. But I guess that is the same with many markets, our idea about “luxury” is often something that is other to us.

Has there been an interest in your clothes from buyers in Nigeria?

I would love my clothes to be worn there. As much as it may be a specific historical moment, a lot of my references are coming directly from Nigerian and Ghanaian music and culture now. It’s coming from a real, immediate place and I want it to be true to that inspiration. I’ve had some Nigerian buyers this season which really excites me as I read that as them understanding and finding something authentic in what I am doing. But I’m also as excited about women, or people from all over the world wearing my clothes as then these ideas can begin to find new meanings. I hope that each collection adds to the conversation about black representation. I am just trying be as true to my intuition as I can be within my means.

Liz Johnson Artur, "There is only one…one" (detail). Installation view: 2019, Grace Wales Bonner: A Time for New Dreams. © 2019
  • All Clothes
    Afrique by Wales Bonner
  • Styling
    Tom Guinness
  • Photographer
    Brett Lloyd
  • Layout
    Julia Wagner
  • Afrique Soundtrack
    Finn Diesel

Related Content

  • Anders Haal and Nicole Walker Imagine Total Fluidity on Humanity’s Next Planet

    The late Stephen Hawking was convinced that humanity's time on Earth was coming to a close, and proposed Proxima Centauri b as a second planetary home. The transition off-world is one subject in a new fashion book by stylist Nicole Walker and Anders Haal, founder of Stockholm-based fashion label HAAL, that considers the illogic of borders on a cosmic scale. Here we preview the book's opening visual essay.More
  • Deeper

  • 032c Cosmic Workshop Collection

    032c COSMIC WORKSHOP "Maria" Longsleeve Grey

    €90
    Buy Now
  • Life Exists: Theaster Gates’ Black Image Corporation

    Theaster Gates' “The Black Image Corporation” presents photographs from the holdings of Chicago’s Johnson Publishing Company, a sprawling archive that shaped “the aesthetic and cultural languages of contemporary African American identity.” Gates approached the project as a celebration and activation of the black image in Milan through photographs of women photographed by Moneta Sleet Jr. and Isaac Sutton – of black entrepreneurship and legacy-making. “Life exists” in the Johnson archive, he says, just as it exists and should be honored in other places of black creativity.More
  • FRIDA ESCOBEDO: The Era of the Starchitect is Over

    Rising Mexican architect Frida Escobedo is relentlessly inquisitive, eschewing stylistic constants in favour of an overriding preoccupation with shifting dynamics. Personal curiosity is the driving force behind her practice, which makes he an outlier in a profession dominated by extroverted personalities keen on making bold assertions. "I think it really is a generational shift," Escobedo says. "The idea of the starchitect making grand gestures with huge commissions is over."More
  • “I live a hope despite my knowing better”: James Baldwin in Conversation With Fritz J. Raddatz (1978)

    Born in Berlin in 1931, editor and writer Fritz J. Raddatz relied on food delivered by African American GIs after the death of his parents. To Baldwin he was an “anti-Nazi German who has the scars to prove it.” Debating his return to the USA after 25 years, Baldwin explores the political climate in America at the end of the 1970s in a conversation at home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence.More
  • House as Archive: James Baldwin’s Provençal Home

    For her new book, Magdalena J. Zaborowska visited the house Baldwin occupied from 1971 to 1987 “to expand his biography and explore the politics and poetics of blackness, queerness, and domesticity”. Here, she narrates her early journeys to Baldwin’s home and proposes a salve for its recent loss: a virtual presentation of Baldwin’s home and effects.More
  • Where are the real investments? Theaster Gates on James Baldwin

    The Chicago-based artist talks to Victoria Camblin about materializing the past, the house as museum, and preserving black legacies. Social and artistic engagement, Gates suggests, may allow the contents and spirit of Baldwin’s home, and others like it, to settle in lived experience.More