Grace Wales Bonner’s BA graduate collection transports you back to 1970s Lagos, even if you weren’t alive yet; it wraps you in pink mohair so soft you could sleep in it, but you’d probably prefer to show it off; it bejewells your wrists and neck with gems so stunning they could only be costume, and it rethinks Coco Chanel’s bouclé suits with the Western African man in mind. This was Wales Bonner’s SS14 graduate collection at the Central Saint Martins’ BA show, created as a menswear line, but wearable for all, even children.
If the imagery of Wales Bonner’s debut collection, for which she won the L’Oréal Professionel Talent Award, takes you back to photos of your dad looking rather dandy in high-waisted bell bottoms, you wouldn’t be far off. Wales Bonner’s influence, comes from not only photographer Samuel Fosso’s 1970s Lagos portraiture but also from the era of blaxploitation film.
Drawing inspiration from filmmakers like Melvin Van Peebles and his film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, and American artist Kerry James Marshall, Wales Bonner looks to their way of “owning identity in an unapologetic way” and their ability to “play with and disturb institutionalised notions of blackness.”
Black identity is so vital for Wales Bonner, who sent her pieces down the runway on models, many of them friends, from Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Ghana, or second generation English with heritage from these countries. Her work is a form of self-exploration – a way to discover her Jamaican-British ancestry while presenting some of the most forward-thinking designs in current fashion, and celebrating how creative menswear can be.
Now, Wales Bonner, is deepening her research into history, this time with a look at portrayals of black people in 19th century art evident in her AW15 collection Ebonics shown in January 2015 at Fashion East men’s presentation at London Collections: Men.
Expressed through a sumptuous array of fabrics and designs – crushed velvet, and finely-tailored denim – in rich tones and offset by a backdrop of a dusk, pink-colored sky, and black sand and woven carpets beneath silk-clad, cowrie-shell embroidered feet, Wales Bonner is calling upon images of opulence.
Her men are kings crowned in jewelled headdresses that sound the coming of a fresh view on how fashion can relate to our heritage and engage our minds. Here’s to 2015, the year of Grace Wales Bonner.
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Credits Ebonics | Philip Trengove