As the founder of the London-based menswear label WALES BONNER and the recipient of the 2016 LVMH Prize and the 2019 BFC/Vogue Fashion Fund, Grace Wales Bonner has quickly emerged as a new icon in the world of fashion.
She’s been featured in The New York Times, TIME, WWD, and Vogue, and recently received worldwide attention when Meghan Markle wore her dress for the royal baby’s first public appearance.
Her work explores themes of spirituality, mysticism, and ritual, drawing not only on disparate influences within fashion, but also incorporating contributions from musicians, painters, writers, and creators of all kinds.
In the latest iteration of her series of musical meditations, Devotional Sound, Wales Bonner brought together a brilliant lineup of artists, including Solange, laughing-meditation guru Laraaji, jazz musician Brian Jackson, and jazz and hip-hop group, Standing on the Corner.
"The artists I connect with include writers, designers, musicians, filmmakers, and visual artists—it’s a broad spectrum of people that inspire me and raise the bar."
Her events showcase such a remarkable mix of styles, we wanted to learn more about Wales Bonner’s approach to collaboration and how she manages to make unexpected elements blend so seamlessly. Here’s what she had to say.
How have rituals and traditions inspired the aesthetics of your recent work?
GWB: I have been exploring spirituality and how it manifests through style and aesthetics through my collections for a few years. It has been a thread of research that I continue to refer back to and there are some pivotal artists whose work has been essential to that exploration.
For example, the work of Terry Adkins or Alice Coltrane. “Living with Gods” and exhibition at the British Museum and also the seminal MoMA show “NeoHoodoo” have also grounded my research. “A Time for New Dreams,” my exhibition presented at the Serpentine Gallery earlier this year, centered around the form of the shrine as a portal into another spiritual realm as a focus for connecting to its aesthetic and ritualistic functions.
You’ve said you want to create a hybrid of European luxury and your cultural perspective. Why do you think this idea is resonating so deeply right now?
GWB: Wales Bonner embraces a multiplicity of perspectives, proposing a distinct notion of luxury, via a hybrid of European and Afro-Atlantic approaches. With my own research, I can see how my perspectives are formed in dialogue between other ways of seeing. I’m interested in creating in the intersection between cultures.
Could you tell us about the inspiration behind Devotional Sound? What do you enjoy most about being able to bring unexpected elements into your work?
GWB: Devotional Sound was initiated as part of the programming around my Serpentine exhibition. I proposed a durational and fluid format within a space of worship that allowed communities to connect and experience sound as through collective meditation. The first iteration in London very much connected to ideas of devotion, repetition and ritual in its format.
"I’m interested in learning from other ways of imagining and being. For me, collaboration is a way of broadening the horizons of a landscape."
The New York iteration was an expansion from this starting point and connected to the idea of Ecstatic Recital. My research for the event comes from literary, visual and musical reference points. The artist response was rich and varied. I’m always interested in opening dialogue with artists to broaden the perspective of what something can be.
You seem to have such a clear vision of what you want to do and why. Have you always felt like you had a singular mission or has it evolved over time?
GWB: As I have developed, I have become more clear in my intentions. Pivotal to that development was finding my community and peers from across the world and across generations. The artists I connect with include writers, designers, musicians, filmmakers, and visual artists—it’s a broad spectrum of people that inspire me and raise the bar.
The New York iteration was an expansion from this starting point and connected to the idea of Ecstatic Recital. My research for the event comes from literary, visual, and musical reference points. The artist response was rich and varied. I’m always interested in opening dialogue with artists to broaden the perspective of what something can be.
"Working with Dropbox Paper has been incredibly beneficial, as it has allowed me to share my resources with my collaborators from all over the world."
Could you describe your creative process?
GWB: I feel the working process for me is constantly about refining and reflecting. Much of my work and the refining comes through conversation and collaboration. It has always been important for me to be able to share my references with my collaborators as the start of any creative conversation.
What do you look for in collaborators?
GWB: I’ve been lucky to have collaborated with people whose work and approach I truly admire. Each project and relationship is unique. I’m interested in learning from other ways of imagining and being. For me, collaboration is a way of broadening the horizons of a landscape.
Congratulations on winning the Vogue Fashion Fund! What was your reaction when you heard the news? How does this impact your projects and plans?
GWB: Thank you. It’s really wonderful to have that kind of recognition from the industry and I am incredibly grateful. The award and mentoring will give me the time and space to bring Wales Bonner to the next stage of development.