Global Young Designer Spotlight: Grace Wales Bonner

Global Young Designer Spotlight: Grace Wales Bonner

The fashion designer and multidisciplinary creative finds inspiration in her Jamaican heritage, artistic collaborations and cultures from around the world.

article appears in Volume 27: The Books
The 28-year-old fashion designer Grace Wales Bonner
presents contemplative collections that demonstrate a wisdom beyond
her years. A curious traveller with a particular interest in
having journeyed to Udaipur,
Goa, Delhi
and beyond – she is also a serial collaborator, having joined
forces on projects with photographer Harley Weir, filmmaker Jordan
Hemingway, musician Sampha, London‘s
Victoria and Albert Museum and most recently the Serpentine Sackler

Her designs recall, rework and reuse references from creatives
across diverse disciplines – the Pulitzer Prize-winning critic
Hilton Als, painter Jacob Lawrence, musician Alice Coltrane,
sculptor Terry Adkins, and poet and novelist Ben Okri, among
others. For her Spring/Summer 2018 collection, Als’s essay, James
Baldwin/Jim Brown and the Children, led Wales Bonner to explore
male sexuality, with the show progressing from day to night to the
morning after. For her Autumn/Winter 2019 collection, Okri wrote a
piece specifically for the presentation and read it live. Season
after season, research is at the forefront of her creative process
and, unlike many other designers, she explicitly references context
to her audience, her show notes reading more like

For her Spring/Summer 2019 collection Ecstatic Recital, Wales
Bonner included text from the spiritual teacher Ram Dass’s book, Be
Here Now. She had been listening to Coltrane and exploring the
works of Adkins, both African-American artists who expressed a
strong connection to spirituality and followed Eastern practices.
Dass was central in bringing Eastern beliefs to the West during the
1960s and 1970s. The Hanuman Foundation, which owns the rights to
Dass’s work, granted Wales Bonner access to its archives, from
which she drew quotes for her collection. A selection of T-shirts,
polos, track pants and button-downs have his words written across

How has your heritage informed your sense of self?

I grew up in south
to a British mother and British-Jamaican father,
although I also spent some of my childhood with family in Jamaica,
which was quite memorable. My grandmother is from Clarendon in
Jamaica and I remember visiting her at her beautiful and breezy
house and walking in the hills. I became much more inquisitive
about my heritage and cultural history as I grew up, and spent a
lot of time researching black histories and theories.

What led you to become a designer?

I had to decide whether I wanted to be a historian, an artist or
a designer. While studying at Central Saint Martins, I began to
integrate my interests in research and post-colonial studies with
the creation of clothing. I realised that fashion can communicate
complex ideas immediately and I was interested in that power.

Although you’ve since introduced womenswear styles, you
originally launched with menswear, which continues to be your
priority. Why?

At the core I’m interested in tailoring as the epitome of the
European luxury wardrobe, but also in looking at how I can
integrate that with another cultural perspective. My clothing is
very connected to considering black male representation.

Is your process more inspired by research or

It’s a mixture. When I first started designing, I worked closely
with friends like Wilson Oryema and Dennis Okwera, whom I find very
inspiring. I am often drawn to a certain character or an instance
where a man might have greater opportunity to be more

When did you first discover Ram Dass’s book Be Here Now?

I came across it years ago. Then when I started thinking about
the Spring/Summer 2019 Ecstatic Recital collection and the ways
that different groups of travellers relate to India, I reconnected
with his work. I admire this beautiful book and feel its message
about staying present is ever relevant, so I was keen to introduce
it to a new audience. I am interested in creating soulful and
meaningful clothing, so it felt like a natural connection.

You’ve previously discussed art as a form of spirituality. Can
you explain?

In my Serpentine show A Time for New Dreams, I examined how
creating artworks can be close to spiritual expression, as
intellectual formations can have a transcendence. For example, the
American artist James Hampton felt that he was receiving
revelations from God that guided him to create an elaborate shrine
– in that instance his artistic expression was guided directly by
his own spirituality. I am interested in being able to channel
spirituality through creation.

How do you find the time and headspace to work on such a
variety of creative projects?

Travelling is important to me in inspiring my work and
collections. In the same way, working in different mediums and with
different collaborators feels essential to my development. My role
changes for each project – sometimes I am commissioning artists to
reflect and respond to my universe and at other times I am much
more guided by their output.

What have you learned from your collaborators?

I am constantly learning from the people around me. My
collaborators give me a new way of viewing or creating a more
complicated and poetic picture that broadens my vision. I believe
that my work is not about a singular perspective, so these
conversations and encounters are essential. I’d love to work with
the filmmaker and installation artist Isaac Julien in the

What are you reading right now?

Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica by Zora
Neale Hurston.

Grace’s Guide to Udaipur


The Shiv Niwas Palace Hotel is an
airy former palace that has a sort of faded grandeur. I like the
grounds and the scenery overlooking Lake Pichola – they have a
particular charm.


A thali at Sheesh Mahal in The Leela Palace hotel while
gazing out over the lake is a perfectly balanced meal, as you can
taste various dishes in one platter.


Watch the locals’ morning routine at Lake Pichola. While in
Udaipur shooting our film The Love With Which I Wash in 2016,
Harley Weir and I would go there first thing to observe their
ritual washings, take in the fragrances and listen to the


There are a number of beautiful boutiques by the lake where you
can acquire antique photographs and embroidered vintage clothing. I
collect the former and purchased several photos of maharajas, as
well as a stunning shisha embroidery.

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