Grace Wales opens Paris menswear with Baldwin’s bildungsroman and Fanon’s fighting spirit
Grace Wales Bonner is a British designer of Afro-Caribbean origin, who has made a great success of her partnership with German brand adidas, and yet her show in Place Vendôme on Tuesday night felt like a quintessentially Parisian moment in fashion.
Wales Bonner’s inspiration were a series of artists, writers and political theorists who made post-war Paris their home, and her collection was an attempt to express through clothes how these freethinking gents world of post-war saw their talent and thoughts blossom.
Grace Wales Bonner first leapt to prominence with her first show back in 2014, showing path-breaking tailoring and novel cutting that referenced her forefathers' discovery of sartorial style in London, and how they gave it their own inimical twist. This season, she riffed on a particular period in history where Black path breakers came to Paris to express their ideas, liberate their own cultures. From poet Aimé Césaire to dancer Josephine Baker; writer and senator Alioune Diop; novelist James Baldwin and political philosopher, Frantz Fanon.
Like in her debut, this show began with a beautifully cut fine wool redingote with contrasting white collar, and ended with two marvellous tuxedos – one in black with tobacco stripes and piping, the other with displaced hidden buttons and the contrast collar. Impeccably cut, intriguingly accessorized, each with a pearl brooch. Each symbolizing sartorially the search by these black artists to escape the inherent racism of their times.
As guests gathered, a brilliant jazz trumpeter Hermon Mehari played a series of flurries – Miles Davis-style, both plaintiff and declamatory.
Grace is graced with the ability to mix up haute-gamme tailoring with spruce sporty style. Like in her combo with Adidas, which produced microfibre shirts and tops, featuring a new WB logo.
Vertically ribbed skinny knits with horizontal patterns, or smartly gentleman pants, with turned down satin waistlines, all mingled in with volume coats in bitter lemon wool bouclé or pink crinkly silk - making for a great wardrobe.
In an important shift, the designer also showed women’s wear – from halter neck knit dresses, to grommeted skirts and shell embroidered jackets and blazers.
Younger ladies also donned Grace’s contrast blazers – including 16-year-old Raee Kebede, the daughter of veteran runway goddess, Ethiopia’s Liya Kebede. The latter attired in stretch track jacket and macramé skirt.
Wales Bonner also chose a symbolic location – the every grand Hotel d’Evreux in the northwest corner of Place Vendôme, “the epicentre of European luxury,” in the designer’s words. Winning her prolonged applause, a personal triumph after the best expression of post-colonial style ever seen so far in fashion.
Entitled 'Reverie', this was a meditation on a diverse group of artists of color who were inspired by, and inspired, French culture. Which, in an era when so much conservative mainstream media spends hours and columns attacking woke culture and BLM, made this runway collection a vital humanist statement.
Audaces fortuna juvat.
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