Wales Bonner’s Mumbo Jumbo for Autumn / Winter 2019
LONDON, United Kingdom - Designer Grace Wales Bonner kicked off her year with a new job title to an already lengthy resume; that of, exhibition curator. At the Serpentine Galleries in London, Bonner established a visual and sonic confectionary “A Time For New Dreams” bringing together some of her long-standing collaborators and respected legends in art, film, movement, and music. A few days ago, she shared the presentation of her latest collection at the same Serpentine Sackler Gallery as part of London Fashion Week.
Her Autumn Winter 2019 collection Mumbo Jumbo takes its name from the seminal 1972 novel of the same name by great writer Ishmael Reed. In its 1996 re-publishing, the New York Times called the work “part vision, part satire, part farce…a wholly original, unholy cross between the craft of fiction and witchcraft.” Reed’s allegory offers an incisive look at Western civilization, in particular black-white relations throughout history. What a point of departure for Bonner, who as a fashion designer relishes in concentric circles of historical and contemporary storytellers, who guide her genderless collections season after season. Show notes pay homage to another storyteller, outsider artist James Hampton who worked as a janitor in Washington, D.C., but referred to himself as Saint James and covertly assembled a large shrine of religious art over a decade known as Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly (on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum since 1970). Bonner both honors these black men and African intellectualism through twenty-four looks that interrogate understanding of self through the broad scope of black culture and perhaps one’s place in history, present, and future.
For lack of a better analogy, Bonner is the consummate team coach, who is adept at bringing forth the strongest players across varied disciplines for a common goal. Trust that there is a competitive spirit, an energy to excel or rather push forward beyond the collection prior; she has to dig deeper and evoke more emotion or create more space for these ideas to live and persist. Bonner bears that responsibility in every collared shirt and tailored trouser. The best coaches remind each player that the collaborative effort produces greater impact than the individual’s excellence. Movement was led by dancer Michael John Harper, art direction by collaborator Eric N. Mack, and sound by Chino Amobi among others; these individuals, many of whom have taken part in “A Time For New Dreams” are not simply name-slapped for show’s sake, but collaborators with whom Bonner necessitates depth. As coach and player, Bonner reflexes magnificently and the clothes signify that success wholly.
Classic sensibilities in tailoring, strong separates, and easy sportswear are enhanced with strategic newness. An exaggerated tuxedo lapel is adorned with a feathered broach — sea creature meets clay beads and tiny flowers. Texturally, colored feathers peek out of jacket cuffs, cowhide adorns shoes designed in partnership with Manolo Blahnik, and a faded sports uniform is reimagined as a tunic with words denoting not a team affiliation, but the words CONJURE. Polo shirts transform with embroidered logos calling on Haitian vèvès, combining classicism with a vodou subtlety. Track pants and varsity jackets reference 1980s campus life at the historically black Howard University replete with collegiate iconography. Bonner can tap into the logo-heavy trend du jour with substance - a winning feat indeed.
Photos Courtesy Filippo Fior for Gorunway.com