Style & Grooming

Dissecting Wales Bonner’s Indian-Themed S/S19 Collection

The designer reveals her inspirations for the season, and discusses the introduction of womenswear to her oeuvre

For Grace Wales Bonner’s Spring/Summer 2019 collection, the journey began in India. This season, the designer had been contemplating ideas of Indian spirituality, as seen through an African-American lens – in the work of Alice Coltrane and Terry Adkins, for example. Titled ‘Ecstatic Recital’, this collection was not presented via a runway show, but a lookbook shot by one of her collaborators, the photographer Harley Weir. Displayed in the gallery below, Weir’s images reveal a collection that is more relaxed than any of the designer’s previous offerings; one that reveals her vision for womenswear; and one that effuses a sense of purity and spirituality. Here, Wales Bonner reflects on the different elements that comprise this collection.

Alice Coltrane and Terry Adkins

Two African-Americans lie at the heart of this collection: the jazz pianist and harpist Alice Coltrane, and the sculptor and saxophonist Terry Adkins. A sense of spirituality underpinned of their practices – particularly the former, who took on the Sanskrit name Swamini Turiyasangitananda after she encountered the guru Swami Satchidinanda in the 1970s – and it was this that piqued Wales Bonner’s interest. “They had this spiritual practice,” she explains. “I was interested in that and thinking about travelling through India from that perspective.”

Ram Dass

The designer also took inspiration from other groups travelling through the country – “yoga characters” as she refers to them. Looking through Weir’s images, it’s easy to see which ones she means, dressed as they are in relaxed shirts, t-shirts and Wales Bonner’s take on the track pant. The designer worked with the foundation of American yogi and spiritual teacher Ram Dass, incorporating graphics from his seminal 1971 book Be Here Now into the collection, alongside necklaces strung with rose quartz and other gemstones with healing properties.

Goa and Mumbai

As well as the inspirations, India was present in actual the fabrication of the clothes, which featured collaged-together sari fabric, mirror embroidery in the shape of mandalas, and the cut of the clothes themselves that in some cases resembled a shalwar kameez. Furthermore, Wales Bonner travelled to India, working directly with manufacturers there. “I spent some time in Goa and Mumbai earlier in the year, and there’s an embroidery studio that we worked with there, and the textile manufacturer Raw Mango too,” she says.

An Ease

‘Ease’ is a keyword for the season. The collection represents Wales Bonner’s most relaxed offering to date, with the introduction of performance wear, such as those previously mentioned t-shirts and track pants, and a sense of ease to the clothes. “It’s a collage of different references,” she says. “30s evening mixed with performance wear. There’s a kind of purity and spirituality to the clothing, and a lot more of a relaxed silhouette, even the tailoring is turning into more casual pieces.” Featuring brocade detailing by Raw Mango, the performance wear still has that gentle flamboyance that has become one of the designer’s signatures.

The Wales Bonner Woman

Though last season’s show featured a female model, this collection sees a more formal introduction of womenswear to the designer’s oeuvre – something that makes both creative and commercial sense given the popularity of her clothes among female consumers. But how do the clothes compare to the menswear? “It’s probably more of a reflection of what I want to wear. It’s more personal,” she says. “And I think the woman has a different character to the man. She’s the counter to the man – he’s more flamboyant and expressive, and she’s more relaxed.” Looking at the tailoring and elongated, gemstone-embroidered shift dress, it’s not hard to see what she means.