Style & Grooming

Grace Wales Bonner Refines Her Signature

With pared-back and perfectly cut tailoring, the designer presents her take on minimalism

“This season was a reflection of where I’m at right now,” Grace Wales Bonner said shortly after her S/S18 show held at the Swiss Church in Endell Street on Saturday. “I’ve been thinking a lot about 90s minimalism.” This was obvious – garments encrusted with cowrie shells and Swarovski crystals, which have become her signature, were omitted this season and replaced with pared-down and perfectly cut tailoring. Tailoring is, she said, something she is “interested in pushing”.

While shells and crystals had been abandoned this season, the designer’s unbridled devotion to craftsmanship had not – it was visible in every garment, from the tailored trousers and leathers to the shoes made from exotic skins. There was a heightened sense of sexuality too – in the leather, yes, but in the slim-fitting tank tops and the unbuttoned (or in some cases completely removed) shirts as well. “I was thinking about sexuality instead of sensuality,” she mused. “So [this collection] is more severe in that way.”

There was also an element of the intellectual – something that has always been present in Wales Bonner’s collections, which have previously contained references to people like black thinker Frantz Fanon. This time, guests were issued with an essay by Hilton Als (the theatre critic for The New Yorker) about James Baldwin taken from a 2016 exhibition catalogue at the Artist’s Institute in New York. She said she had been thinking about “people who come through the lineage of James Baldwin and the space he’s created for other forms of black queer expression.”

Exploring black masculinity continues to be a central tenet of Wales Bonner’s work and it stems from the men in her life; men who don’t conform to society’s narrow perceptions of what it is to be black and male. “Me designing men’s [fashion] is me attempting to show a kind of masculinity that I’m familiar with,” she explained. On Saturday, this masculinity was personified by a cast of mostly black and mixed-race models who pounded around the space with a visceral energy, while others zig-zagged across the space in pairs, as if taking part in some secret ritual. “It’s a reflection of my relationships with the men and boys in my life. It’s about real characters in my life. They inspire me and the direction of my collections.”