One to Watch: Grace Wales Bonner

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Wales Bonner graduate collection
Wales Bonner graduate collectionPhotography by Dexter Lander

AnOther speaks to Grace Wales Bonner on her award-winning Central Saint Martin's graduate collection and the inspiration of African-American culture

Blaxploitation is a cultural genre that emerged in the 1970s in a groove of stylised cinema, funk and soul music, fronted by the likes of Superfly, Shaft and Foxy Brown. It has since provided the backstory to many a Quentin Tarantino movie and continues to be a source of inspiration for fashion and music, found in wide lapels, fur, afro haircuts and a playful 'Damn-the-Man' attitude. It also acted as one of the influences for Grace Wales Bonner’s Central Saint Martin’s BA graduate collection, which won the coveted Talent Award for a series of high-waisted flares, embroidered vests and embellished cropped jackets in a soft mix of bouclé tweeds, suede and denim.

"I became interested in the evolution of black aesthetics, perhaps as a way of educating myself about a side of my heritage which I have not experienced so directly as a teenager," Bonner explains. The show occurred mere weeks after the tragic passing of MA professor Louise Wilson, giving a poignant yet celebratory feel to the night. Here AnOther speaks to Bonner about the inspiration behind her collection.

What inspired your collection?
I was inspired by a turning point in black expression intellectually and aesthetically that took place around the late sixties and seventies: a pride and power in blackness and sexuality and a celebration of these ideals. I began looking at how perhaps more direct African expressions have translated across the Atlantic to create something new.

Were you inspired by any specific characters?
I became really interested in Amiri Baraka's writing and performance, and his style too, as well as Fela Kuti. Coco Chanel was also equally important. The American artist Kerry James Marshall was also a constant inspiration, he is so cool. After visiting his retrospective in Antwerp I started to introduce more embellishment into my designs. His paintings merged intense black power references into a domestic setting with humour and I wanted to play with this kind of subtlety in the collection.

What was the last thing that inspired you?
John Myers' portraits of Middle England. New Afrobeat.

What is the mood of the editorial?
For the editorial we were looking at Carl Van Vechten portraits: these pretty camp and theatrical images that use really simple backdrops to bring in a feeling of exoticism and are about the individual sitter. Samuel Fosso's images of his photo studio in Lagos in the seventies are also a major influence for his interaction with sets and generally incredible style.

What was the greatest complication that you faced while making the collection?
Funding my collection has been pretty hard, everything costs a lot more than you'd expect. Although I was lucky to have some sponsors, it was still quite tough.

Text by Mhairi Graham