Many designers try to tell stories through their clothes but few do so quite as beautifully as Jamaican-British designer and Central Saint Martins graduate Grace Wales Bonner. For SS16, the designer tells the story of Malik Ambar – an Ethiopian slave turned Indian ruler – through an exquisite collection that features a crushed velvet trouser suits embellished with cowry shells and a faded check shirt worn with a wide leg topstitched denim trouser. Now, fresh off the back of the British Fashion Awards where she won Emerging Menswear Designer, Wales Bonner unveils her lookbook for this collection which comprises of 11 stunning images shot at the ICA by Edward Quarmby.
“It explores the story of Malik Ambar an Ethiopian ex-slave who moved to Western India and became a grand ruler there,” says the designer, explaining more about the collection. “It’s about transition, displacement and cultural mirroring between Africa and India, particularly the African diaspora across the Indian Ocean.”
“I was interested in the story of Siddi communities,” she continues, explaining what else inspired her this season. “I was also looking a lot at James Baldwin’s personal style.” The descendants of Bantu peoples from Southeast Africa living in India and Pakistan, and an iconic African-American writer and activist aren’t the usual references of a young designer – but that’s part of what makes her work so original. But as well as originality, these references endow her collections with a deep poeticism.
Casting models for a collection like this then is no mean feat. She enlisted friends, some professional models and some street-cast ones with the help of Joyce Ng. “The boys are also a huge inspiration,” the designer comments. “I found a quiet calm, a confidence, a pride, a sensuality and intelligence in (them). They’re elegant, regal, sophisticated and they really were able to embody this idea of transformation in the story of Malik.” Elegant and regal they certainly are – dressed in Wales Bonner’s sensual, beautifully-cut tailoring they’re modern-day sultans, through and through.