Grace Wales Bonner has been an industry darling ever since she graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2015, and is known for her thoughtful explorations of African identity and adept hand at tailoring.
Her return to the London calendar, following a brief hiatus, proved the hype around her is still very much alive: Naomi Campbell made a surprise appearance at her fall show, patiently standing in the Serpentine gallery with the rest of the guests to watch Wales Bonner’s fall 2019 “Mumbo Jumbo” presentation.
Campbell joined the press backstage to interview the designer postshow.
The collection fed off the exhibition Wales Bonner debuted last month at the gallery, “Time for New Dreams,” and since then has served as a space for writers, photographers and painters to create their versions of a shrine.
The designer said the music, from The Howard University Choir, the first black university in the U.S., that had been featured in her gallery show, got her thinking about uniforms and archetypal American college clothing.
Cue a compact range filled with varsity jackets, tracksuit bottoms embellished with initials, loose tailoring and high-waisted pants paired with classic polo shirts, inspired by year books dating back to the early Eighties.
“I was trying to create a hybrid between very recognizable American college clothing and transform them with a sense of meaning and magic,” said the designer, adding that she found this element of “magic” by melding college uniforms with memories of West Africa or the Caribbean.
She sprinkled decorative details, such as a feather appliqué on a sleeve, pinned a brooch on a lapel or layered loose, printed kimonos over suits that she created in collaboration with artist Eric Mack.
It was a compelling narrative, although the designer does tend to philosophize a bit too much. Next time, Wales Bonner should just let the clothes do the talking.