WORDS BY NERYS D’ESCLERCS
In homage to the icons who paved the way for a new wave of avant-garde creatives, we partner with London brand Wales Bonner — the brainchild of British-Jamaican designer Grace Wales Bonner — to celebrate Black History Month. Read on as she gives exclusive insights into her inspirations and icons, and her highlights of the new collection, influenced by West African culture and 'designed for everyone'.
A moment with Grace Wales Bonner
How did your British-Jamaican heritage shape your childhood and how has it defined the person you are today?
My mother is British and my father is of Jamaican heritage. I grew up in south London and spent a lot of time travelling to school across different parts of the city. I was exposed to a lot of different cultural influences growing up and I am really interested in the hybridity of style in London, which is something that continues to inspire me.
Is style something you’re born with? How did you develop your own personal sense of style and where did it come from?
I think style is something one can embody. It is about being comfortable in your own skin. I think it is also very connected to how you carry yourself physically, the rhythm with which you walk.
Which specific Jamaican cultural and style references inspire you most and why?
There are certain themes that are particularly important in my work; Black intellectual style, music and rhythmicality. I am very interested in certain styles associated with musical genres, for example dancehall. The idea of Black intellectualism or the Black genius is important to me because it's a vision of elegance and beauty that is timeless and has not necessarily been overrepresented within the fashion space but is so prevalent within history, art and literature. I feel Jamaican style is so flamboyant. It is always surprising and inventive as an approach.
Who are your biggest Black style icons and how has their look helped shape your personal style?
Andre 3000 is such an inspiration to me in terms of style, he is so unique and expressive. Often people connected to music and dress for performance are interesting to me, when a way of living also becomes a work of art. [American trumpeter] Miles Davis is another timeless style icon who I have always admired.
A young woman of colour leading her own brand is a powerful thing. Do you feel like a role model? Who has been your role model throughout your career?
When I started Wales Bonner I was really thinking about broadening the spectrum of Black representation and showing that there are myriad ways of being and representing yourself. I started off with the intention of representing that there is not one resolved idea of Blackness. In a sense I aimed to represent a sense of fluidity and infinite possibilities.
There are many people that have inspired my journey. [American artist] Kerry James Marshall is a big inspiration, his ideas around mastery and understanding of history, excelling in his field and making his position in art history non-negotiable set an important precedent. [American artist] Theaster Gates is another role model. His expansive, holistic and multidisciplinary approach shows me that with a refined vision, anything is possible.
Which designers or companies do you feel have made real progress in highlighting Black creativity?
I think Virgil Abloh has left an incredible legacy and has been so generous in bringing people up with him in his ascent within fashion. His legacy of creating space for others and making visible pathways to success are important and I feel we all have a responsibility to nurture that kind of mentality within the industry.
What was the starting point for your new collection? Do you have any favourite pieces and why?
The spring/summer 2022 collection draws on a time-honoured tradition of West African studio portraiture, style and textiles, notably the work of Burkinabé artist Sanlé Sory and the band Volta Jazz in the 1970s.
The collection has been designed for everyone. I like to think all the pieces can be integrated and mixed with versatility. I always like to make people dress with elegance.