Wales Bonner’s design aesthetic combines the rigor of British tailoring with the design sensibilities of the African diaspora. And, she is making her mark on global fashion with admirable speed, winning just about all the prestigious awards en route.
British fashion designer Grace Wales Bonner “proposes a distinct notion of cultural luxury that infuses European heritage with an Afro Atlantic spirit”. Her designs are characterised by a blend of sportswear and tailoring although the focus is on wardrobe essentials with a refined elegance.
She has quite an interesting, prolific history. Wales Bonner studied at Central Saint Martins art school, graduating in 2014, and winning the L’Oréal Professionnel Talent award for her BA collection “Afrique”. In 2014, she founded the London-based label Wales Bonner, originally specialising in menswear. In no time she caught the eye of the fashion elite and won “Emerging Talent – Menswear” at the 2015 British Fashion Awards and the 2016 LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers. That year, she curated her debut show, “A Time For New Dreams”, for Serpentine Sackler Gallery, which was an exploration of magical resonances within black cultural and aesthetic practices. The exhibition, which attracted 25,000 visitors, took its name from a collection of essays by Nigerian writer Ben Okri, and included work by several artists.
Per Hans-Ulrich Obrist, artistic director, Serpentine Gallery: “Grace is a fashion designer, but she’s also a thinker, a writer, an editor. She makes connections between different fields, from music to art.”
So, it didn’t come as a surprise when she was awarded the British Fashion Council/ Vogue Designer Fashion Fund (2019) and the CFDA International Men’s Designer of the Year (2021). Grace was also invited by Maria Grazia Chiuri to collaborate with Dior to re-interpret the house’s New Look silhouette for its Resort 2020 collection. The following year, in 2020, she was recognized as one of the United Kingdom’s most influential people of African or African Caribbean heritage by being included in the 2021 edition of the annual Powerlist. Wales Bonner has also collaborated with sportswear brand Adidas Originals: ‘Adidas Originals by Wales Bonner’—Sambas with crocheted details—were sold out in no time and declared by GQ as “2021’s Sneaker of the Year”. This year, she collaborated with American artist Kerry James Marshall on a limited-edition T-shirt.
Her Spring 2023 menswear has been described by Vogue as,” The macramé womenswear dresses were set with hand-made glass beads by Ghanaian artisans, and the heat- dryed hand-dyed jersey had been fashioned in Burkina Faso… In menswear there was genre-busting back and forth between futuristic sportswear (which included a hand-made adidas shoe whose trefoil looked lacily artisanal) and Wales Bonner-directed, Anderson and Sheppard-cut tailoring in cashmere and camel hair that was de-conventionalised through emphasised shoulders and small sly acts of sartorial ‘wrongness’ that looked incontrovertibly right.”
Stockists include Matchesfashion.com, Selfridges, Net-a-Porter, Mr. Porter, Bergdorf Goodman, Saks 5th Avenue, Nordstrom, Dover Street Market International and Boon the Shop. Natalie Kingham, Buying Director of Matches Fashion, tells Elle: “Her collection isn’t about dressing androgynously or in a masculine way. It’s cross-dressing in the same way women borrow from men’s wardrobes, but with a luxury twist. It’s been resized and cut for women; good-quality clothing works for everyone regardless of gender.’
And, her star continues to rise. Wales Bonner was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire in the 2022 Birthday Honours for services to fashion and she currently serves as Head of the Department of Fashion Design at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna.
To build a luxury fashion brand that represents a black or Afro-Atlantic cultural perspective
Founder designer Wales Bonner
Menswear and womenswear
The fashion designer has won a number of prestigious awards including Emerging Menswear Designer at British Fashion Awards (2015), LVMH Young Designer Prize (2016), Winner of the British Fashion Council/ Vogue Designer Fashion Fund (2019) and CFDA International Men’s Designer of the Year (2021). In June 2022 she was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to fashion.