The complete sensory world of Grace Wales Bonner

How Graces Wales Bonner inspired Theaster Gates, who names her as one of 25 creative leaders of the future in Wallpaper’s 25th Anniversary Issue ‘5x5’ project 

Wales Bonner A/W 2021 pinstripe jacket shirt and corsage
Wales Bonner A/W 2021
(Image credit: Grace Wales Bonner)

One of the most talked-about fashion designers in current times, Grace Wales Bonner, founder of the British fashion label Wales Bonner, is known for using her mixed-race heritage as a jumping off point for her collections. Primarily known for her menswear (though she does produce womenswear as well), Wales Bonner has become a force to be reckoned with, not only because of her impeccable craftsmanship but also her dynamic ability to weave explorations of Black sexuality and identity in sartorial form.

Since launching her eponymous label in 2014, Wales Bonner has created a complex world that embraces multiple disciplines and proposed a new vision of luxury that fuses the Eurocentric perspective with an Afro-Atlantic approach. ‘My research is quite broad, so it can be quite musical. I’m very methodical about it – my musical research I do around a certain timeframe. Then I think, right, what kind of textures work in the context of that sound. It builds upwards,’ she reveals. ‘Usually it starts from literature. I’ll have some books or poems in mind and then build a visual world around that, and then a musical world around that, until I have this complete sensory world that’s a hybrid of different things.’

Grace Wales Bonner: design encapsulating a complete sensory world

Wales Bonner A/W 2021 women's suit

Wales Bonner A/W 2021

(Image credit: Grace Wales Bonner)

Far from being confined to garments, Wales Bonner’s love for other art forms such as music and photography has also led her to curate her own exhibitions, most notably ‘A Time for New Dreams’ at Serpentine Galleries in 2019, which explored the idea of shrines – a theme inspired by Robert Farris Thompson’s notable book Face of the Gods. Connecting spirituality and mysticism with the material, the exhibition brought together shrines created by a range of collaborators, from artist Rashid Johnson to the musician Laraaji, to embody Wales Bonner’s love for cross-pollination in an unadulterated form. 

It’s no surprise that Wales Bonner’s poetic approach to representation has made her a beacon of inspiration to Theaster Gates, who tipped her as one of 25 creative leaders of the future for Wallpaper’s 25th Anniversary Issue ‘5x5’ project. ‘Grace’s unparalleled commitment to historical research on the modes of fashion over the last 500 years makes the style of her work undeniably unique and rigorous,’ he says. ‘From garments that reflect literary characters to collaborations with Adidas making handcrafted sportswear, Grace offers a new lens and platform through which to consider conversations on race, identity, and sexuality. Her quiet intensity and strategic approach to studio management will continue to rock the design world.’ 

Wales Bonner A/W 2021 sports sweater and trousers

(Image credit: Grace Wales Bonner)


A version of this article appears in Wallpaper’s October 2021, 25th Anniversary Issue (W*270), on newsstands now and available to subscribers – 12 digital issues for $12/£12/€12.
Meet more creative leaders of the future nominated by architect Theaster Gates here.

Pei-Ru Keh is a former US Editor at Wallpaper*. Born and raised in Singapore, she has been a New Yorker since 2013. Pei-Ru held various titles at Wallpaper* between 2007 and 2023. She reports on design, tech, art, architecture, fashion, beauty and lifestyle happenings in the United States, both in print and digitally. Pei-Ru took a key role in championing diversity and representation within Wallpaper's content pillars, actively seeking out stories that reflect a wide range of perspectives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and is currently learning how to drive.