Style & Grooming

Inside Designer Grace Wales Bonner’s First Ever Exhibition

The designer and researcher talks through her inaugural curatorial project, staged at London’s Serpentine Sackler Gallery

  • TextHannah Tindle
  • PhotographyKristy Noble

Since graduating from Central Saint Martins five years ago with a BA in Menswear, Grace Wales Bonner swiftly established herself as one of the most exciting designers working today. Her namesake label has received critical acclaim for its exploration of black masculinity and Wales Bonner’s own heritage, expressed through beautifully crafted clothes. A focus on sharp tailoring and exquisite embellishment, coveted by men and women alike, earned her the prestigious LVMH prize in 2016, and ever since her intellectually-charged collections have gone from strength-to-strength, often grounded in literary, artistic and post-colonial research. 

Today, Wales Bonner is making it clearer than ever that she intends to further explore this side of her work, with a new exhibition at London’s Serpentine Sackler Gallery titled A Time for New Dreams. The show is the first that the 28-year-old has ever staged, and aptly described as a ‘research shrine’. “I started having conversations about the exhibition around six months ago,” she says, during the show’s preview. “It’s a reflection of where I am spiritually at this moment in time; it’s about connecting to what I feel is my purpose; how I connect with my contemporaries, connect with my ancestry and connect to other artists as well,” she continues.

Indeed, A Time for New Dreams brings together a wide selection of artists and creative practioners who have informed or influenced Wales Bonner, most of whom have a shared interested in themes of mysticism and black identity politics. Such names include the likes of Ben Okri, Eric N. Mack, Rashid Johnson, Kapwani Kiwanga, David Hammons and Liz Johnson Artur, with works spanning across sound, installation, video and writing. “In terms of the artists in the show, I knew I wanted to include Ben Okri from the beginning,” says Wales Bonner. “Eric N. Mack I had worked with previously and I had wanted to work with Kapwani for a really long time, too. Everyone who is included are people I was aware of who I really admired. The amazing thing about this opportunity is that The Serpentine has a fantastic network, so it’s been really exciting to collaborate with such important figures, both historical and contemporary.”

Wales Bonner’s A/W19 fashion show will be staged in the gallery space this February, the art forming a backdrop to the collection, further emphasising the multitudinous nature of her practice. “First and foremost, I’m a researcher,” she notes. “My work is about grounding the research and using fashion or art as a medium to communicate it.” While the show remains under wraps, she reveals a just little of what’s in store: “The next collection is called Mumbo Jumbo,” she says. “I’m looking at the wardrobes of intellectuals at Howard [University] in the 1980s and also the idea of artists as shamans. It’s very much about creating characters to be integrated into this gallery environment.”

With plans to collaborate with other art spaces in the future, placing futher emphasis on research and curatorial practice, the scope for Wales Bonner to forgo fashion’s traditional show schedule entirely, seems a plausible and exciting possibility. “The Serpentine have really recognised that there is a lot more to what I do than creating clothes,” she concludes. With this in mind, we can’t wait to see what Wales Bonner does next.

A Time for New Dreams runs until February 16, 2019, at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, Kensington Gardens, London W2 3XA.