Home Fashion Grace Wales Bonner’s Vision of Black Elegance Is the Hottest Thing in Menswear

Grace Wales Bonner’s Vision of Black Elegance Is the Hottest Thing in Menswear

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Grace Wales Bonner’s Vision of Black Elegance Is the Hottest Thing in Menswear

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Earlier ​​this year, as Grace Wales Bonner staged her latest runway show, her first in Paris, careful observers could glimpse all the elements of a major player in the menswear firmament coming into view. A baller venue: the ornate salons of the 18th-century Hôtel d’Évreux at Place Vendôme. A VIP-studded front row. An Adidas collab, including jerseys for the Jamaican national soccer teams. Down the runway, she also sent debonair dinner jackets, leopard-print babouches, and cowrie-shell-embroidered trousers, all emblematic of the Afro-diasporic style she’s become famous for. It was the grandest expression of her powerful vision yet and one of the finest collections of the entire season.

The soft-spoken designer is comfortably at the leading edge of menswear’s next generation of creatives. Her trophy cabinet is already running out of space. Since launching her brand, called Wales Bonner, in 2015, the 32-year-old South London native has won just about every important fashion prize there is. But no industry accolade can express just how electrifying her exploration of identity and the Black experience is right now. She is, certainly, one of the most talented fashion designers of the moment, and smart money would bet on her achieving her goal of developing Wales Bonner as a long-term project, with an aim, she said, of “bringing an Afro-Atlantic spirit in European luxury.” That is, in her words, “to establish a luxury house that represents a broader cultural perspective.” That vision is more convincing now than ever, in part because of how confidently, exuberantly collaborative she is.

Earlier this year, in a historic brownstone in Harlem, Grace Wales Bonner and some of her collaborators gathered for a photo shoot. From left: photographers Katsu Naito and Nick Sethi, playwright Jeremy O. Harris, photographers Tyler Mitchell and Anthony Barboza, Grace Wales Bonner, artist Haile Mariam Kassa, curator Antwaun Sargent, and models Lineisy Montero and Hiandra Martinez.

“I’ve never designed in isolation,” she told me over tea earlier this year in New York. Her creative process involves a prolific exchange of ideas that is pushing her menswear into important new dimensions. “Behind creating clothing is this idea of thinking about research as an artistic or spiritual practice, which is something that feeds into everything I do.” She might just as easily have wound up in a painting studio at Central Saint Martins, the famed London art school where she graduated from the fashion design program. In fact, she studied womenswear before finding her voice in menswear (the first garment she ever designed, in secondary school, was a “sculptural” dress.) But Wales Bonner finds clarity in clothes. “I see clothing as my most direct mode of communication,” she said.

Wales Bonner’s spirited and wide-ranging approach to making garments both simple (striped rugby shirts) and complex (tailored suits in dapper silhouettes) has led her to work with masters of various fields: luminaries like the poet Ishmael Reed, the painter Kerry James Marshall, and Kendrick Lamar, as well as emerging stars, like multimedia artist Eric Mack, and the photographers Nick Sethi and Tyler Mitchell. (Sethi and Mitchell are pictured in these pages with a group of her friends and mentors who figure into her work.) It is plain to see why many of her influential artist friends see her as one of them. “I honestly look at her making a suit for me as almost like buying a painting from an artist,” said Mitchell, who took these photos.

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