A Journey Into the Beauty of Rajasthan with Wales Bonner and Nick Sethi

Grace Wales Bonner is creating a world filled with elegance and mysticism, and fuelled by close collaboration. Here, she introduces an exclusive project with photographer Nick Sethi, a journey into the frenetic beauty of Rajasthan...

This article is taken from the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Another Man:

Wales Bonner was something I had to do as a human being. It was something creatively I had to express, I just had to represent something. I feel like it’s my purpose to be doing this. I think my creative instincts are guiding me somewhere, they have a really important part to play in my journey. It’s hard to explain but I think they have a deeper purpose in my life. So I’m following them, which takes me on journeys that are really important.

“I’ve always been interested in travel. Having experiences in other places has always had a profound effect on me, and I draw from those experiences when I design. I first went to India when I was about 17 and spent three months there, around Rajasthan. I’ve been three times over the last ten years and always feel like it’s somewhere I can relate to – the warmth, the colour and the people are so enchanting. It’s somewhere I can feel at home, somehow. Last year, when I was working on my Spring/Summer collection, Ecstatic Recital, I spent some time in Goa on a meditation retreat, and I was very engaged with the spirituality there. It was very all-encompassing. Then I spent time in Mumbai with some friends, which was very different and heavy in some ways. The collection came together through being there.

“The collection is about these characters that have always been in India, and connect to an aristocratic heritage. I was looking at portraits of maharajahs, particularly one called Holkar who was from Maheshwar. There’s a famous portrait of him wearing this dress suit, which is really elegant. It’s also about people who find themselves in India, like travellers, particularly this idea of a black traveller. You don’t hear stories about a black person discovering a place, so I wanted to introduce that into the language of the traveller. But it was very much about this eclectic group that find themselves in India and start to become more integrated into the culture. I was thinking about technical clothing, performance clothing you would need for hiking, but then incorporating silk brocades created in collaboration with Raw Mango or very particular techniques like mirrored embroidery. So it’s this hybrid of forms: something that’s quite technical, sporty and relaxed, connected to yoga clothing, and then something that has a history or is more reflective of the environment. One of the other things I was thinking about was the way that black artists have connected to Indian spirituality and how that’s represented aesthetically. I was thinking about Alice Coltrane’s ecstatic music and her ashram, and Terry Adkins, an artist who lived in New York and incorporated musicality, rhythmicality and meditation into his artwork.

“What I’m trying to communicate is about presenting worlds and stories. The worlds and the complications of those worlds, and the connections between things that might seem disparate, that’s what I’m bringing to design. The next step, the actual design process, is visually reflecting that world and manifesting it in relation to the body; the closeness to the body is something I’m really interested in, the intimacy of that is an emotional thing. The clothing and these characters are all part of the same broader vision.

“I’ve always thought of Wales Bonner as a broader thing than a singular perspective, so I think it helps to be engaged in dialogue and collaboration with people that I admire and that can broaden the perspective of what it is. It’s not about just me, I’ve always thought about a multiplicity of voices and perspectives, so it’s more like a chorus of people I connect with. I don’t create in isolation; it comes about through collaboration and exchange. I’m connected with people from different disciplines, people who challenge me and push me into new areas. People like Nick Sethi: his approach is very different from mine in the sense that it’s very immediate and responsive. It’s interesting to see people work with a different energy and think about what you can learn from that. That’s how I want to live and that’s what I’m shaping with Wales Bonner: the way I want to interact with people, the way that I want to communicate with people, the way I want to touch people.”

PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANT Nishanth Radhakrishnan MODELS Neeraj Saini @ Ninjas Model Management, Raju, Yakub, Vijay, Raju, Deepak, Rahul, Vijay SPECIAL THANKS Hotel Paramount Palace Pushkar