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GRACE WALES BONNER FOR SPUR JAPAN

Grace Wales Bonner:  Photographed by  the legendary Jamie Morgan  for Spur JapanGrace Wales Bonner: Photographed by the legendary Jamie Morgan for Spur Japan

It's been 10 years of contributing to Spur Japan. Which made this sitting with lovely Grace Wales Bonner the perfect way to cap off a decade of collaboration. As a kid reading The Face I used to worship at the altar of Jamie Morgan's photography for the Buffalo Collective styled by Ray Petri. And now here's Grace, the new generation's beacon of integrity standing up in Jamie's light. It was a transcultural joy to work with all involved.

Wayne Sterling: Thanks Grace, for taking time out from putting your next collection together to talk to Spur.
Grace Wales Bonner: Well thank you for the invitation and for being up up so early for this. I've been aware of you for quite a long time. You picked up on me when I was just starting out.

WS: I'm so very happy to be having this conversation in an official context . Right from the start your work was extremely strong and I found it personally very…resonant. But the last two years for you, going from Central Saint Martin's graduate to LVMH Prize winner whose work is also included in the Victoria and Albert Museum collection, must be quite incredible!
GWB: I didn't imagine things would really turn out like this. I guess I was just doing things I thought were quite personal. It's interesting that it connected because I didn't assume people were going to understand it and give it the time that it has been given. It wasn't what I was expecting.

WS: Perhaps its because your work is the meeting of multiple cultures , British, African, Indian, even Continental Europe but each element is very authentic and therefore it becomes relatable. Are there other cultures you think you work is going to explore in coming seasons?
GWB: I kind of think of my work being more about hybridity and the mixing between cultures. I've always been interested in the clash and collision and what happens when two things meet and how that relates to my own identity . It's a bit like that Creole aesthetic where there is a fusion of a lot of different influences forming and creating something new. It's always about the mix, so the way I think about different places and different times is never quite specific. It's quite fluid.

WS: I fully understand your point. It's what happens when you are the intersection of formal English culture and cultures like Jamaica which strongly retains African sources while braiding British formality into it.
GWB: Yes! Totally. And so it kind of, the task of negotiating what those elements are and why something has to be in the form it is, in that certain way.

WS: Not to mention that Britain too is an island constantly being pushed to process so many outside influences, which feels like one of the root codes inside your work as a designer.
GWB: London is such a multicultural place where I've come to take for granted how unique this is because I've always been around lots of different cultures…different points-of-views sometimes in balance, but sometimes in conflict with each other ...which feel quite natural to me.

WS: And now as a designer you get to make them your own visual language. Fashion has allowed you to put theory into practice.
GWB: That was one thing that was really exciting for me. When I graduating from St. Martin's I was writing this kind of thesis about black aesthetics…and rythmicality and how that is played out. I was writing that at the same time that I was doing my graduate collection, and while not meaning to, all the links and all the theories I was reading fed really strongly into what I was doing. As long as you are involved in a certain kind of content, there is a natural residual energy that goes into the work. Which I found very exciting that other people could read into that.

WS: I've always wondered, for instance what drove your urge to challenge how masculinity is represented.
GWB: I think it does come from academic research, from studying areas I'm interested in especially people like Hameed Baba…people operating on the margins and negotiating new spaces…So it comes from some critical theory but it also comes through the influences of artists like Jean Michel Basquiat…or Samuel Fosso , people who understood institutional practices and kind of dismantled them or played with them from inside the structure… so it's same with like how in jazz music you can disrupt something by understanding it and being within it. It's about making drawing from different sources and making subtle disruptions … but carving your own space.

WS: I understand. You use the idea of collage, or montage but it comes out looking like one single aesthetic.
GWB: I guess it's quite a hard balance to get it all to make sense really but I guess that is my style. I've been exposed to a lot of different influences, but seen through my eyes because I'm filtering it, so that it comes out as quite something else…and becomes a world I've created. The way I design becomes about creating a world and the characters that inhabit it which are quite personal to me…and intuitive.

WS: One of the interesting things about that aesthetic is that I can't spot an obvious reference to a pre-existing designer…as in…here's a heavy influence from Early Margiela or 80's Mugler…Are there earlier designers who impacted your work when you were younger?
GWB: It is an interesting question . I guess also my interests and influences come more from art and literature, so it's quite narrative driven. But obviously there are people in fashion who I really admire. Coco Chanel is quite influential to me. I love Miuccia Prada's work. ..Raf Simons work…when design is quite rooted in culture but then transformed in some way is something I find quite interesting.

WS: Clearly. Do you still feel committed exclusively to menswear or are you planning to go more deeply into womenswear.
GWB: I have been doing more womenswear, so the recent collections has had pieces for both …I am working out how I want to present those two things because it is still has to be about this kind intimacy…of the reactions and the interactions …with what works best.

WS: I mean Phoebe Philo at the LVMH judging had such a big reaction to your collection and really wanted to wear the pieces.
GWB: (laughs) Yeah…It's kind of exciting that women understand it as well. The point is my references are so much about fluidity so that if you can read into that…then anyone who relates to the pieces can wear them…

WS: You work with such a beautifully organic color palette, along the range of earth tones while mixing it with the decorations of crystals and cowrie shells. Do you imagine you might explore bright colors or strong patterns soon?
GWB: I do tend to love the palette of earth tones but there's usually a strong surge of color in there. I think of how I design as being more than just a seasonal exercise but really something where I'm continuing the conversation and extending the references year by year. What's really important to me is that the evolution just be organic and honest.

WS: I'm also very touched as to how much your models and your casting is a part of your creative process .
GWB: But they are what really inspired me, these boys, these people…they were a very immediate physical inspiration to me. It was a way of of coming to understand them. They are all people I've come to know and love. It's been a journey for us all, by doing it we get to see new things and explore new ideas…There are a few models and friends I work with in a way that is quite consistent . Their values all come in different ways. It's all quite collaborative in that way. We can work together. They're quite invested in you and you're quite invested in them.

WS: FKA Twigs the musician you've collaborated so beautifully with speaks of your work having a deeply spiritual feeling. Is this something you try deliberately to invoke?
GWB: I do think about the spirituality of what I'm doing in terms of aiming for a certain purity and really thinking about how I'm connecting to the humanity of the creative process. So if people do sense this aspect to my work then I'm so grateful for that.

WS: Well my gratitude to you Grace for this conversation. You have a beautifully inspiring way of looking at the world.
GWB: Thanks again Wayne for participating in this. It's been really lovely talking with you.

Taste is a dictatorship.

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