Grace Wales Bonner's "Spirituals" at London Collections: Men AW16


A little over a week, on the opening day of London Collections: Men, the super mature Central Saint Martins BA Hons Menswear graduate Grace Wales Bonner pulled off what I'm sure will be quite a memorable runway debut. One of two newcomers in fashion fairy godmother Lulu Kennedy's Fashion East biannual MAN show (alongside other newcomer Loverboy Charles Jeffrey). She's already proven to be quite the serious contender, being awarded the L'OrĂ©al Professional Talent Award for her graduate collection, making a debut with Fashion East's presentations like I said straight off the BA course at Saint Martins to critical acclaim, was invited to the V&A's prestigious Fashion in Motion programme, before going on to win Emerging Menswear Designer at last years British Fashion Awards. An impressive two years. 

"Spirituals" was the name of Grace's AW16 collection - which was shown on a stripped back runway upon which Nigerian-Irish composer Tunde Jegede sat playing the kora, a 21 string lute-bridge-harp from West Africa, was bowed to by passing models. With chocolate brown suede suits, rusty orange knitted tracksuits and high-waisted trousers, Grace paid wonderful homage to a now iconic seventies silhouette. Throughout, Swarovski crystals embellished everything from the hems of bleached-out flared jeans and trousers, dripping from the collars of sweatshirts to in and around the necks and wrists and across the chests of models. Exploring this idea of "winters in hot climates" the collection also heavily featured these amazing floppy, crocheted bucket hats. The collection was also in part a re-imagining Sun Ra's future-bent aesthetic - the artist who claimed was from Saturn, who by through music delivered messages of how the future would look. Grace has such talent for translating his visual and philosophical message into profoundly elegant and luxury garments. Oh and the models took their final walk to a what seemed like a lovely rendition of Adele's "Hello".


Something I absolutely adore about Graces Wales Bonner is with as of all her shows to date, her use of an almost all black, Asian or mixed race cast is perhaps (unless done intentionally) the rarest sight you'll see on a runway today. Autumn/Winter 2016 was no different. Lets be honest, its no secret that the fashion industry favours white people, so for Grace to do what she's doing is an incredibly bold and brave, yet a beautiful and poetic gesture to make for such a young designer. And I love that there was only like one or two white models in her entire show last week, but its important to recognise that she wasn't trying to be racist towards white people, far from it in fact. It was rather, a statement to make, almost to say "we're here too, you know" and the polar-opposite to almost every other fashion show nowadays. It was and still is the perfect reaction to what is still unfortunately happening around her and in her place of work. The clever thing is though, its not just the models, with Wales Bonner its the entirety that is underpinned by a progressive exploration of black male identity; both in terms of of its public perception, sexuality and gender. People like Grace Wales Bonner are huge inspirations to me, both as a human being and aspiring menswear designer. Like her, people who see a much larger issue, but go about ways of trying to make change and I don't think Grace Wales Bonner is gonna budge anytime soon and good on her, so remember the name. 


When it comes down to the clothes, Grace isn't jumping on the bandwagon like many other London designers and students for that matter are, in fact none of this seasons MAN designers do and by that I mean the dare I say it "sportswear" or "streetwear" aesthetic. You can spend hours getting the perfect top stitch, develop your clothes to have this desirable cut and fit, experiment with the manipulation of the rarest and finest of materials, but at the end of the day its still streetwear - not that its bad thing or in any way to belittle those designers because what they do has this exuberance that many can only aspire to. Myself included. Take Astrid's delicate lace basketball jerseys or Nasir's architectural caps for example. I bring this topic up because what Grace does is purely luxury, again an extremely rare sight for designer showing in London, however her references make it perfect for her to show here. With Grace herself reminding us that "It's about bringing beauty and sensuality to menswear" the perfect way to explain herself. Everything from the beautiful flowing, flared-leg trousers to the striped wide-neck polo shirts, sporty 70's tops and velour tracksuits I found to be my favourites. Another key feat. was that zig-zag pattern and embellishments were exquisite throughout. Grace Wales Bonner has an incredibly bright future ahead I'm sure, I just can't wait to see how she develops over her next two seasons with MAN. Like I said before, remember the name.










  

Images Courtesy of Vogue Runway and Dazed Digital, Videos thanks to British Fashion Council and Male Model Corp 3

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