Among the eight finalists in the running for this year´s LMVH prize, Grace Wales Bonner, a 25 year old menswear designer, won the title for emerging talent. As the winner, she will receive €300,000 and a year-long mentoring and coaching with LVMH executives.
Bonner graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2014, winning the L’Oréal Professional Talent Award with her graduation collection Afrique. Since then the designer have received much well deserved recognition; including the Dean of Central Saint Martin´s personal recommendation for her dissertation (Black on black) and awarded the Emerging Menswear Designer award at the British Fashion Awards in 2015. Her dissertation was a 10,000-word piece on the turning point in black expression in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s. ‘This idea of taking ownership of your own representation, working inside established frames of reference to create something new’. A huge inspiration was the Lagos based photographer in the ‘70s, Samuel Fosso. Bonner was enthused by his idea of taking a self-portrait after every roll of film, showing the person who created the images, and ‘not being a document’.
‘I wasn’t trying to be political or address racism either; it was more about my research’.
Bonner discussed the act of using all black models on a catwalk as a statement, wanting people to compare this to the all white runways, and normalising it, rather than making it to be a declaration.
‘Fashion seems to be where most daring ideas about identity start to translate and then be interpreted into more mainstream ideas, so I think it’s really good that people are challenging ideas about what a man can be and look like’. The design that scored her the LMVH win was her Spring 2017 collection, her first solo outing. The main inspiration was the 1939 crowning of Haile Selassie as emperor of Ethiopia. However, the design was a mix of merging ceremonial attire, with military adornment and hints of religious apparel. The embroidery was of crystals and shells, handcrafted and crocheted. The central themes of the collection were black male sexuality, masculine identity, and cultural experience, bringing gender fluidity into her designs. Bonner´s grandfather was a tailor, and following in his footsteps, her designs had a focus on tailoring in the shape of slim-fit trousers, capes, tailcoats, and single-breasted jackets. Take a look at some of our favourite pieces from the show.
What is so special about Wales Bonner designs are the subtle, yet rich narratives that lies behind each piece, earning her reputation of being a cultural polymath. ‘I find fashion interesting as a communicator, but I don’t want to narrow it down to that’. Based on her educational and complex approach to design, both in regards to tailoring and history, we are truly excited to see what this young and brilliant designer is up to next.
Text: Sigrid Solberg
Images: Grace Wales Bonner, Vogue