It’s hard to believe, but just two short years ago, Grace Wales Bonner was still a student at Central Saint Martins working on her graduate collection. In the short time since then, her incisive and detailed studies of black male identity have earned her last year’s British Fashion Award for Emerging Menswear Designer and, now, a nomination for the LVMH Prize.
A native of London, which she credits for giving her a “broad perspective and a sensitivity to different points of view,” Wales Bonner says she was originally drawn to designing menswear thanks to her father. Each of her collections is firmly grounded in history and academia, often dealing with the legacy of colonialism and an almost-sociological interest in value systems and group distinctions. “I spend as much time as possible researching and it’s a constant process,” she explains. “I am looking for an engaging narrative and something I immediately can connect with emotionally. It’s all quite intuitive.”
For Spring 2016, her study led her to Malik Ambar, an Ethiopian brought to India as a slave in the 16th century who formed a mercenary army and rose to the rank of prime minister thanks to his political skills. “The collection reflects cross-cultural exchange and the African diaspora across the Indian Ocean,” she says. “References are broad—Bollywood, Nollywood, markets in Dakar, Senegal.”
While Wales Bonner continues to show during London Collections: Men, her clothes have also attracted a passionate female following, something that is not entirely unexpected. “I like working with raw silks, crushed velvets, and fabrics with an emotional quality that may be associated with femininity,” she says. “My work is about freedom, so it makes sense for women to wear them too.” she says.
She has also drawn particular notice for casting her presentations and shows with mostly non-white models, a practice than can sometimes come across as a gimmick but feels completely honest and apt in her hands. “I want to represent blackness in fashion in a rigorous and beautiful way,” she explains. “It’s not a phase or a trend for me, it’s something that motivates me.” With her work falling as it does at the nexus of shifting gender norms and the industry’s increasing drive for diversity of all kinds, Wales Bonner may in many ways be the representative designer of our times.
Presenting Models.com’s exclusive spotlight on each of the 8 finalists of the LVMH 2016 Young Fashion Designer Prize in anticipation of their final presentation at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris.
On June 16th, LVMH will announce the winner of their 2016 Young Fashion Designer Prize from a pool of 8 finalists – Aalto, Alyx, Brandon Maxwell, Facetasm, Koché, Vejas, Wales Bonner, and Y/Project. Started in November 2013, the prize was launched to champion standout talent and foster their labels. Winning means getting a seal of approval from a jury of fashion’s foremost designers and industry professionals like Nicolas Ghesquiere, Marc Jacobs, Riccardo Tisci, J.W. Anderson, Phoebe Philo, Karl Lagerfeld, and LVMH’s own Delphine Arnault. Aside from being recognized by the industry, the winner receives a 300,000 euro grant and a year’s worth of expert technical and financial support from the foundation. Of course, success in the industry for these designers isn’t dependent on winning, but it certainly sets the stage.
Stylist William Graper
Hair Joey George (The Wall Group)
Makeup Cyndle Komarovski (Honey Artists)
Manicurist Yukie Miyakawa
Producer Jazmin Alvarez
Art Direction Stephan Moskovic
Editors Irene Ojo-Felix & Steven Yatsko
Text by Jonathan Shia