drop anchor as wales bonner explores race, culture and connections
The 2016 LVMH prize winner might just be the show of the season.
From the moment she graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2014, a softness and sensitivity has drawn the industry deeper and deeper into Wales Bonner’s world. As she travels through time, continents and cultures, her narrative-stitched designs continually manage to playfully pause the usual blink-and-you'll-miss-them blur of boys and instead, we lose ourselves in her carefully crafted collections. For autumn/winter 18, we’re aboard a ship returning to the Caribbean winter, an evening procession subtly influenced by 40s French couture -- high waisted, sensual tailoring with exaggerated curved pockets in battered ivory silk -- along with functional-yet-fabulous waterproofs.
“It was about this sailor who’s been away at sea for a long time, and was returning back to an island,” Wales Bonner explained softly backstage. "I kept thinking about Aimé Césaire's Notebook of a Return to the Native Land and this idea of shifting perspectives after leaving the French Caribbean, studying in Paris and then returning home -- looking at his island from a distance, observing this familiar world from afar." While echoing the words of poets and thinkers that have long inspired her, rather than mimic the likes of Césaire, Miller, Sharpe and Walcott’s declarations and prose, she weaves her words into both traditional and modern fibres. They are no less moving and no less powerful. Presented in the grand European 18th century interior of a Grosvenor Place townhouse, Wales Bonner invited Harlem-based artist Eric N. Mack to create an installation that draped across the front row and catwalk, echoing the collection’s themes of evolving identities.
"There's a soulfulness that I'm trying to communicate and this sense of celebrating a collective identity.”
Ultimately, Wales Bonner was exploring ideas of connection and disconnection, both emotional and physical. “I was thinking about Creole identity, and this sense of an unresolved state. That's something that I identify with. It's how I observe and connect personally -- having a distance, romanticising aspects of it. There's a soulfulness that I'm trying to communicate and this sense of celebrating a collective identity.” This was most obvious in the prints and hand painted reproductions of works from Jacob Lawrence’s Migration series, the celebrated Afro-American painter served in the United States Coast Guard in the 40s. “You see crowds of people, the joy of the collective and we were keen to replicate that in our own way,” she explained.
Informed by broad research that encompasses critical theory, composition, literature, and historical sources, Wales Bonner will always be an artist, ethnographer, poet, dreamer and academic as much as she is a fashion designer but her slick, seductive suiting is now setting her apart, not just on the London Fashion Week Men’s schedule but the world’s stage. Just a few days in and she has provided one of, if not the, show of autumn/winter 18. Not bad for a designer who only graduated from the CSM BA course in 2015.
Photography Mitchell Sams