The designers Grace Wales Bonner and Marine Serre both run distinct labels with cultish followings. Serre builds her sporty silhouettes around symbols like the crescent moon. Her aesthetic is futuristic, and her construction emphasizes sustainable materials. Wales Bonner, on the other hand, thoughtfully crafts her garments almost like a scholar outlining an essay. Each collection is grounded in a theoretical idea or a piece of literature and follows a sustained period of deep research.
At today’s Forces of Fashion conference, Wales Bonner and Serre spoke with Vogue’s Chioma Nnadi on why fashion is the best mode of communication for their interdisciplinary interests. They also discussed what it was like to strike out on their own at such a young age and how they manage to stay sane in a never-ending fashion cycle that expects designers to churn out multiple seasons each year. Read the highlights below.
Grace Wales Bonner: “At the same time [that] I was developing my collection at Central Saint Martins, I was also developing this body of research around black rhythmicality and how it manifests in aesthetics. I was working on these two things quite independently—I was working on my collection at Saint Martins and also this body of research—and towards the end of the collection, these two things kind of became quite embedded in each other. When I presented my collection, people kind of read into the nuance and read the theory that I was looking into in the clothing that I was creating. I found it quite interesting to realize how immediately fashion can be a mode of communication and how you can communicate very deep, nuanced ideas about identity through imagery. I started to realize quite early on the power of creating clothing and creating imagery, and representing something through that.”
Marine Serre: “When I was about 13 or 14 years old, I started to dress up. I was living in the [French] countryside at the time, so I did not have access to big shops. I was basically passing all my time going to secondhand shops or markets, and that was my first experience with fashion that I can remember. Of course I was already really small, so I had to cut everything and mix and match things. Living in the countryside also gave me a really clear idea of what fashion was because I was actually more interested in the garment itself and how these garments speak to each other, and how they could transform me and people around me. Suddenly, when you are an adolescent, you are wanting to express something. I think garments were the first thing that I could play with. At the time I was going to school like every young girl, but I was also playing tennis on the side, and so I had to change myself into a totally different person. I quite like this kind of like [a] double identity. I think today we are all really like that, and I think this is actually a big part of my work today.”
On starting their own brands:
Wales Bonner: “After graduating I had about six months where I was considering different options. There were some job options but also the opportunity to show at Fashion Week with Fashion East. That felt like the right decision for me. I think even at that point I wasn’t necessarily imagining that that would be the start of a brand—it was almost just a continuing part of my education and research. Instinctively it was something I needed to express, and I wasn’t necessarily sure how people would respond to it, so it was really exciting and encouraging that people and stores were interested and press kind of gave it the space to articulate what it was, so I was really encouraged by that.”
Serre: “For me it was really organic. Already at school I got some interest from buyers. I thought, Maybe I’m going to do it in 10 years. I was thinking more, Okay, I like to do that, but I’m not a brand—I’m just doing something I like. I needed money to pay my rent, so I took on a job at Balenciaga, which was very good. I think for me it was not like, Okay, it's going to be right now, but more like, I know I want to do that, but I want to do it when I’m ready, when I know enough, when it’s a good time. I think this kind of thing you just feel it, and it actually happened quite fast. It was more actually to stay calm and to try to take it slowly and not lose yourself, even if what you wanted arrives earlier than what you thought.”
Wales Bonner: “For me it’s been about connecting deeply with my intentions and what I feel is my purpose and trying to align those kinds of values and qualities within my work as much as possible. Whether that’s explorations of spirituality or identity, those ideas are very connected to myself. I think reflecting that in the work I do feels like the most honest and authentic way to create. It’s also about having a very close connection with community. When I first started I’d have models and friends that I’d work with very closely in the studio, and the development of the collections would be very much a conversation. It’s also me having these very specific people [who] represent the kind of beauty and elegance I’m interested in. Exploring and working closely with them, having that direct kind of conversation with people that inspire me—writers, musicians that inspire me—kind of opens up the world with dialogue around points of reference.”
On not crumbling under pressure:
Wales Bonner: “Becoming more interested in spirituality and wellness is almost a coming back to myself. I think the conditions of creating and the kind of expectations on young designers are really overwhelming, so I think for me it was also having space to kind of recharge. For me that was about meditating, doing these yoga retreats a few times a year, and that kind of helps me come back to myself. I’m very disconnected from work, and I think that energizes me. From my first collection travel was an important part of my research, experiencing other cultures and other worlds and having these kind of meaningful interactions which fuel my creativity. I think for me it’s understanding that I have to create those circumstances to reenergize myself. It’s a really important part of sustaining momentum and enjoying work, and aligning with my intentions.”
Serre: “I think for me it’s really simple things like staying grounded—going to work on my bike or taking the Métro, just doing normal things. And of course the amount of things that we have to do [to create a collection] and the fact that we have to do it every six months sometimes feels a little bit fast, but it’s what happens when you’re working with trends. Plus I’ve done a lot of sports, so I’m a super-disciplined person. I’m also trying to give time to things like going into the mountains, for example—there you just have to concentrate on the fact that you have to have enough water, enough food to travel for one full week, and things like that.”
Go Behind the Scenes at the 2019 Forces of Fashion Conference
Originally Appeared on Vogue