Grace Wales Bonner, Rory Parnell Mooney and Charles Jeffrey all in one sitting, what more could we ask for?
Grace Wales Bonner
The entire cast of the critically acclaimed, apparent polymath, Grace Wales Bonner’s show was almost exclusively black — a wonderful thing in an industry that seems to condone the white washing of nigh on every aspect of itself. And the designer is one with an agenda: to alter the representation of black men in mainstream media from the usually depicted aggressive and brutish type images we are so often fed, to showing that in fact whole races aren’t stereotypes (yes, some people are that stupid). Her attempts at this have been described so often as poetic, gentle and rooted in incredible amounts of academia and critical thought and research, and this genuinely came through in her AW16 collection. It is surprising that exploration of racial representation on the runway has not been more prominently on the cards in London in previous years so… finally! Other designers either blindly, and offensively, appropriate or entirely shy away from matters of race, racial heritage and culture — but not Bonner. And for these reasons one could say that the designer is in fact bringing something entirely new to the menswear arena, and we can only hope that the fashion audience is switched enough to understand both the complexities and brilliance that comes with these collections, and doesn’t just see ‘cute clothes’ (even though, by the way, they were.)
The Irish designer explored the typically Parnell-Mooney motif of ritualistic dressing once again. Whether a riotous schoolboy or a Spanish monk, these robe-like wears became fuller, and more complex for AW16. Stiff, spray painted denims sat below draped silks and peach-skin cottons, with stiff leathery neck ties and chest belts binding and cinching the pieces and the body. In a palette of blues and blacks — akin to the colours of the Thames at night — the garments, true to form, both held structure but flowed with movement. The theme was realised via both subtle and unsubtle means, and the pieces were sporadically adorned — either printed, painted or embossed into fabric — with the words ‘Nancy Boy’ and ‘Repent’. There is something that always feels personal, and hence political, when it comes to Mooney’s work; the collision in message between the two words repeatedly used felt like the battle between religion and sexuality playing out on the runway. Once does not like to assume anything about Mooney’s past, but using the classic school yard quip ‘Nancy Boy’ as the centre of an entire collection acted as an empowering message of re-appropriation against the childhood bullies we have all encountered. Here is an example of London fashion doing what London fashion should do: empower, critique and politicise.
Joyful is the word that springs to mind when one thinks of Charles Jeffrey’s work this season. Here lies not some uninspired designer capitalising upon the creativity of the queer community and subsuming stolen aesthetics into elements of their show, but here is a twenty-five year old who knows, and creates space for, parts of London’s queer scene. From casting, to set, to music the whole thing feels like an extension of LOVERBOY — Jeffrey’s night at VFD (formerly Vogue Fabrics). It’s outrageous, and humorous and this energy was reflected in every stitch of the collection too. Intentionally mis-proportioned suits with slung open belts stumbled out of the backstage; pirate shirts with bondage leathers wound around the neck and arms of the pretty youth that strutted through the set with their gigantic, multicoloured hair; a cropped Plaid pea-coat in electric blue was flung over the shoulder, and aran knits were sliced open — their holes filled in with psychedelic printed cotton. The fact that the garments are so skilfully made only adds big bursting cherries to the belligerently queer cake, but beyond the beauty and the luxury of the collection was also an accessibility which high end fashion so often fails to recognise the need for: with a knack for thrifting one could totally recreate these looks. The real deal will be worth it, last longer, and feel amazing to wear (due to Jeffrey’s Saville Row mad skills), but this is an aesthetic that is open to all, willing to put in that bit of effort and have the guts to turn a look like this. Democratising an industry that is so known for its hierarchical nature is a truly queer thing, and all of the above is exactly why London needs Charles Jeffrey.