Remember back in March, when all the bigwigs in the fashion industry were like, We should make less clothing? And not do fashion shows unless we really have something new to share? And really get critical about what our brand is and what we want to say?
Across the industry, results on all that are mixed. The shows in London and Milan so far have suggested that for most designers, those urgent questions turned out to be quaint reveries. Grace Wales Bonner was one of the few designers to take those ideas to heart. She presented a collection today comprising a gorgeous video, “Thinkin Home,” (made earlier this year in Jamaica, directed by Jamaican-born and Brooklyn-based photographer Jeano Edwards), and a succinct, intentional 28-look lookbook (20 men’s looks, eight women’s) that marks a significant new level of sophistication for the designer, whose clothes have been nearly unmatched in their sophistication since she launched her brand in 2015. She has led the charge for delicate masculine beauty for a few years, but now, Wales Bonner is poised to be a global force of fashion.
As she explained in a phone call from London last week, the show was called “Essence” for a reason: “The idea was about coming back to the intention of the brand, and what’s essential within it. What’s essential within the wardrobe? [If you took] what the codes are, and reduced that down to a concentrated collection, what would that look like?” The result is a master class in how to be more ambitious without doing more, producing more, or spending more. What if the best way to expand your vision is by doing less?
Wales Bonner usually shows in her native London, though this was her first time on the Paris schedule, which counts as a statement about her ambitions, even in these digital times. The opportunity to do a video, she says, “was affirming and exciting”—and a natural fit for her approach, which is about collaboration and forging new creative pacts. Each of her shows has featured contributions from a veritable ensemble cast of writers, artists, poets, musicians, and spiritual gurus. The video furthers that idea, providing a powerful biography for the clothes: this is where they come from, and this is what the person who wears them looks like. (The best fashion week videos so far have mostly been like time capsules that will be grow fascinating as the years go on, although some, like Prada’s, had more cinematic intentions. I’m surprised that no one has tried to do something like the 1990 Martin Scorsese documentary “Made In Milan,” which captures the way Giorgio Armani works and thinks in preparation for a show...)
The clothes in this collection are successful because, like Bonner says, they feel focused, almost like an almanac of Wales Bonnerisms. But they’re also just more personal, building on last season’s biographical exploration, which took heavy cues from the way her Jamaican father dressed in the ’70s and ’80s. There is the usual encyclopedia of references here—Jamaican photographers working in the ’80s, for example, and reggae artist Arthur Pablo. But the clothing, more so than ever before, is extremely affecting even without the usual explanatory show notes Wales Bonner provides. It’s even a little freakier than usual: I loved an orange and green track jacket worn under a punch-pink cardigan with ladylike gold buttons, styled with a pair of long denim cargo shorts. It’s the way you might layer in a tropical climate, but more interestingly, the evocative mixture of cultures and codes that Wales Bonner advocates demonstrates how clothes can reveal your life story, your origins and future.
“I’m always interested in making something look more elegant,” she said, “even if it’s just something you wear everyday.” That sounds modest, but it belies the scope of her ambition. Wales Bonner blends sportswear and tailoring like no one else, like a long skinny suit jacket with a track jacket collar affixed to peak lapels, over brown striped belled trousers; or a jockey silk tracksuit affixed with a suit jacket’s collar. It’s hard to do that—what’s anachronistically called “mixing high and low”—and not make it look like a joke or a trick, but she instead pursues a message of style and identity, of beauty and minimalism. She has a pretty genius understanding of how, in communities of the African diaspora, the track suit is like a tailored suit, while the jockey silk has the formal touch of fine evening wear. In another designer’s hands, this proposition could be merely a quarcore gimmick. But of course, in Wales Bonner’s world, elegance is a kind of religion. Remind me: why doesn’t this woman have the keys to a couture house yet?
Originally Appeared on GQ