Grace Wales Bonner is branching out. The acclaimed designer is in the process of launching an in-house accessories line in a bid to grow her “brand universe” and increasingly lean toward a lifestyle-driven narrative.
In March, the Wales Bonner brand launched its first collection of in-house footwear. This is being quickly followed by the introduction of a hand-beaded jewelry collection, which exclusively launches on the brand’s website on Tuesday.
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“I think it’s been important to elaborate on the universe of Wales Bonner so there are different access points into the collection. Accessories help us lean deeper into the storytelling of different crafts traditions that we follow all over the world,” Wales Bonner told WWD by Zoom.
The designer, who has been working closely with craftspeople since her brand’s launch in 2014, is no stranger to shoe design. Her collaboration with Adidas Originals — which has been running since 2020 — is considered one of the sneaker world’s most successful pairings. It fulfills an underserved niche of the fashion sneaker market — appealing to anti-hype shoppers that gravitate toward more subdued styles.
Wales Bonner emphasized that she compartmentalizes her work with Adidas separately from her own brand. “I think about [my footwear] project differently from that,” she said when asked if designing sneakers with Adidas helped her as she created her first in-house shoes.
“I do think footwear is something I feel quite comfortable working with. I’m really interested in leather and the sense of a gentleman’s tradition in terms of making shoes. And that’s always been part of what we do. We are working with really brilliant people in Italy for development to bring our footwear to the market — and it feels like we have the right partners to do it, in the right way that took time for us to find,” she said.
For Wales Bonner, introducing shoes is foremost about “completing a silhouette.”
Her first designs are street-ready versions of traditional haberdashery home slippers — priced from about $550 to $800 — some of which can fold down at the heel and become mules. They come in solid calfskin colors, including black and cobalt blue; zebra-printed calf hair, and one with a higher stacked heel comes wrapped in hand-woven textiles. There is also a simple strappy flat sandal that has distinct, refined proportions.
“I think it’s about this comfortable way of wearing shoes. There is a lounge feel to them but you are also wearing something elegant that feels quite evening,” Wales Bonner said of starting out with a range of flats. Her shoes are available to purchase on the Wales Bonner website, as well as at Ssense, Matchesfashion.com and LuisaViaRoma.
She added that, “I think the brand is quite multidisciplinary and takes inspiration from different fields — music, arts — and to be able to express what we do through different product categories is quite important. Part of how I work is by teaming with artisans to tell different stories and express the breadth of the brand. We are trying to create a universe to allow people to access our story in different ways.”
With this in mind, Wales Bonner has also introduced jewelry. The line of necklaces — which incorporate handmade Ghanaian glass beads, rock crystal and baroque pearls, and are hand-strung in Ghana — are priced from about $660 to $1,050. The pieces are meant to be easily paired with the brand’s lyrical clothing designs.
Wales Bonner said these inaugural jewelry designs exemplify her brand’s mission to merge “an Afro Atlantic spirit with European luxury.” In designing jewelry, she felt a certain comfort in wholly focusing on details that she was previously only able to incorporate into her line in measured amounts.
“Jewelry seems like part of our DNA. From our early collections I have been thinking about embroidery and embellishment. Jewelry is an important space to tell our story about crafts and I am trying to create something magical, special. I like the idea of someone adorned, so it was a natural category to expand into,” said the designer.
Wales Bonner has decided to hold off on launching a handbag design, but said she would like to release one in the future. Taking a slow-growth approach as she has done with the rest of her label, the designer said of bags: “I am definitely interested in developing in that space but it takes a certain level of development and time. There is a lot I want to develop in that space but I think I need to focus on these categories at this moment.”
On a general business level, Wales Bonner feels that accessories are “definitely a really important space to develop in our business. I’m expanding on what we have done with ready-to-wear. I do think it will be a significant part of our sales as we expand into accessories and footwear for sure.”
In the last few years the designer’s no-fuss approach to thoughtful luxury has transcended gender — attracting a balanced audience of both self-identifying men and women. She feels that the success of her gradual expansion is largely due to remaining true to the morals she has held since her brand’s start.
“I didn’t commercialize it at an early stage and I think it’s really special to connect back to early ideas and to be able to see the integrity and strength of those ideas now and make them more accessible to people,” Wales Bonner said. “It’s exciting to me and very encouraging that all of these early inspirations are really valid now and that I have the means to create special pieces that are strong and unique. There is a through line in the work — expanding into these different categories all comes from the same base.”
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