Grace Wales Bonner, one of the few black female designer’s designing exclusively for men has shown her new Spring 16 collection themed Spirituals at the 2016 London Collections: Men under MAN, the umbrella of the Fashion East Initiative’s collaboration with British retailer TopMan. Founded in 2015, MAN finances three emerging menswear designers to show at an international fashion week. Alumni of the intiative include J.W Anderson.
With a British Fashion Award to her name and international acclaim in just two years, Bonner’s collection was highly anticipated and she delivered with a collection that examines her personal history and collective ancestry of black people in Europe and the slavery that transplanted them there.
Design-wise, Bonner is in total control, obvious from sharp the cuts in her suits, taken in at the true waist like women’s suits. She isn’t afraid to flatter the male form with sharp military shoulders and slouchy sweatsuits done in crushed velvet and shiny leather. She also isn’t afraid to emphasize traditional silhouettes, sending a camel coloured wide lapel feather duster with an empire waist line down the runway. Bonner like many young designers, isn’t afraid to skirt across gender lines to bring back a gem or two.
The clothes mirror black fashion across many eras; the wide collars and preppy-chic pastels of the 60’s popularized by Black Panther supporters, the layering of leather on pleather of Melvin Van Peebles inspired 1970’s Blaxploitation films, the even subtler detail of models with hair slicked with what one can only interpret as hair texturizer.
But there is always the contrast of Africa, in the beaded jewellery, brightly coloured chokers flush across the model’s throats is almost rebellious when compared to the more subdued colours of the clothes. The jewellery and the model’s faces dusted in rust coloured blush, is primal and just as powerful as the illusion of sophistication the clothes offer.
Bonner is intriguing to us at The Other Style because she breaks many stereotypes about what a menswear designer should be and what should constitute menswear, and she does so with such deftness that her clothes stay grounded and wearable.