SO2 - Grace Wales Bonner riffs on '70s London Reggae

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SO2 - Grace Wales Bonner riffs on '70s London Reggae

Sunday, January 12, 2020

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Jaws dropped Sunday last as Rock-blooded Grace Wales Bonner, the designer who dressed the Duchess of Sussex for her first public appearance with son Archie, drew on classic designs and colours of the Rastafarian flag for her Menswear Fall 2020 collection. Indeed, her entire collection was dedicated to the music and scene that surrounded it more than 40 years ago.

The venue, Lindley Hall, a grand building in the equally grand SW1, was transformed into a homage to a youth centre. Guests including the artist Isaac Julien, the footballer Héctor Bellerín and poet Wilson Oryema sat at round tables, and fruit punch and Jamaican patties were offered as refreshments. In the show notes provided, Wales Bonner explained that she was inspired, in part, by John Goto's photographs of second-generation British-Caribbean and Asian young people at Lewisham youth centre for lovers' rock parties. The soundtrack — put together by Jamie xx — was blasted out of speaker stacks, as it might have when these images were taken.

The collection stuck close to the theme. It began with a crisp wool suit with a polo neck — a classically 70s combination, but with a minimalism that did away with any accusations of retro. Across women's and menswear, trenchcoats, knits, tracksuit trousers and donkey jackets followed, along with shirts printed with paintings by the British-Guyanese artist Frank Bowling.

The red, gold and green of the Rastafarian flag were used on hats, vests and coats. All the clothes felt modern despite the references. This is one of Wales Bonner's strengths. While her references are so academic that she provides a bibliography for each collection, she is able to translate her area of historical interest — be it lovers' rock, Howard University in the 60s, or the court dress of Haile Selassie — into clothes that people want to wear.

After the show, Wales Bonner — a somewhat serene presence in the usually frenetic world of a fashion show — explained that the inspiration for this show had been, as she put it, “inevitable” because of its proximity to her own background, and her Jamaican father's experiences in London in the 70s. “I was thinking a lot about people coming into community centres and creating their own parties,” she said. “I was looking at John Goto's Lovers' Rock series and saw my family reflected in it.”

The 29-year-old designer saw a difference between that era and her own. “I feel like there was an optimism and irreverence [then] which meant that you could sample and mix cultural references in a nonchalant way,” she said. Wales Bonner's sterling work could perhaps encourage a new generation to do the same.

Last year was a big one for Wales Bonner, starting with the curation of an exhibition at London's Serpentine Gallery in January. She also won the BFC/Vogue Fashion Fund prize — an investment of £200,000 — in May. The designer's pedigree is writ large in the company she keeps. The white coat-dress worn by the Duchess of Sussex to present her son in May was Wales Bonner's, and she collaborated with Christian Dior's Maria Grazia Chuiri on items for the megabrand's cruise collection in April. She also partnered with Solange on a performance art happening, Devotional Sound, in New York.

Wales Bonner highlights the work of other people of colour excelling in their field. Recent posts on her Instagram include a clip of poet Linton Kwesi Johnson reciting his piece Inglan Is a Bitch in 1980, Bowling paintings, and a notice of a talk between Wales Bonner and artist Theaster Gates, for his show at the Tate Liverpool. Scroll further down and you'll find musicians including Steve Lacy and Jorja Smith wearing her designs. It's perhaps part of a wider vision for the designer's label.

“It is my ambition to build a brand that comes from a black cultural perspective and has the same authority, presence and impact as any esteemed European house,” she said to Vogue in May. “In the long term, I want Wales Bonner to exist on that same level.”

 

As reported in the Guardian newspaper Sunday, January 5


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