Wales Bonner A/W 2019 London Fashion Week Women’s

Wales Bonner A/W 2019 London Fashion Week Women’s

The designer stages her African-American literary-inspired collection inside her Serpentine Gallery exhibition space

Scene setting: Backstage after Wales Bonner’s A/W 2019 men’s and women’s runway show, the designer announced that the duration of her Serpentine Sackler exhibition ‘Grace Wales Bonner: A Time for New Dreams’ had been extended by a month, until mid-March. The exhibition was inspired by Robert Farris Thompson’s book Face of the Gods, which looks at the concept of shrines and how they were conceptualised in aesthetic practice across the Black Atlantic. One of the shrines in the exhibition was devised by Bonner herself, and features a dresser dedicated to the concept of writers as sacred oracles. Another literary inspiration was Ishmael Reed, whose seminal 1972 New York City-set novel Mumbo Jumbo offers a satirical exploration of white supremacy against the backdrop of the 1920s. Bonner not only held her A/W 2019 show inside her exhibition space, but in an exceptionally poignant moment, Reed himself performed live on piano and recited a newly composed poem during the show.

Mood board: During her research process, Bonner delved into yearbooks from the 1980s and 1990s from students who attended Howard University in Washington DC, an educational centre which has played a pivotal role in the US Civil Rights Movement. ‘I was thinking about the black intellectual wardrobe she said’. Her relaxed collection featured varsity jackets and baseball tops, academic Oxford shirts and jogging bottoms. There was a sense of the student throwing on items in a hurry, like a tuxedo jacket and a pair of jeans, or a long baseball shirt and tailored trousers. ‘I wanted to imbue American staples with magic originating in West Africa’ she added of the details in the collection. Herringbone jackets were embellished with feathers, varsity jackets with star and moon embroidery and smart pointed shoes were decorated with bright plumes.

Team work: Bonner’s collection formed a physical dialogue between herself and the authors that have spiritually inspired her. Its power also came in the fact it bought a new temporal narrative to her exhibition, which has been interspersed with live performances. It was a material and moving shrine dedicated to the power Bonner finds in the written word. §

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