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
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
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.’ §