It’s been a bittersweet few days for London fashion hot house Central Saint Martins – on May 16 the school lost its legendary Fashion MA course director Louise Wilson – who has terrified, guided and inspired an alumni that includes Alexander McQueen, Phoebe Philo, Christopher Kane and Jonathan Saunders. But this week, CSM was back on form, with a dazzling presentation of its BA students’ work. They were competing for funding from L’Oréal Professionel, and this year’s best in show was Grace Wales Bonner, whose blaxploitation-inspired menswear collection has somehow landed her the status of the womenswear designer to watch, thanks to its female-friendly boucle jackets and flamboyant jewellery. We caught up with GWB to find out how it feels to be HOT!
Congratulations! How are you going to spend your winnings?
‘It will actually go into me trying to sort out private orders for this collection – I had a lot after the show, so I have to find a way to get them into production. ‘
Does that mean you’re going to hit the ground running with your own label?
‘I’m hoping that I might get mentored by someone first – I really admire Phoebe Philo. I did a placement year at Meadham Kirchoff, and worked at American Vogue and Pop so I have experience working with designers – but I’m only at the beginning, really. I’m still getting over the fact that the show is finished.’
The collection is quite out there – especially for menswear. How would you describe it?
‘I was looking at Lagos in the ‘70s and the idea of a turning point in black expression where the camera was turned on the black person not through a Western lens – basically, black people taking ownership of their representation. Through music, through blaxploitation films, through art. I guess it’s a hybrid of Nigerian street culture and European style’.
Who do you imagine wearing it – particularly the little boucle jackets?
‘Someone confident and dandyish – its designed for someone with a little confidence and flamboyance like Andre 3000. But, you know, the silhouettes are quite feminine – which means a lot of women could wear it too. And I had a lot of orders from women.
Would you wear it yourself?
‘Yes – there were points when I was designing where I thought ‘Hmm, this is just a very long winded way of getting myself a whole new wardrobe.’
You’re a Londoner born and raised. What is it about the city that you find inspiring?
‘The street style – I love all the rude boys on the bus, the men who mix traditional dress with something streetwear-y. All the ways people dress themselves – I’m always aware of it.’
Follow Grace’s progress on Twitter @graciepwb.