The model opening British designer Grace Wales Bonner’s Fall 2019 show took on the runway sporting an American football-inspired tunic embroidered with the name of African-American writer and cultural theorist Ishmael Reed. Reed's seminal 1972 novel Mumbo Jumbo gave the collection its name. Amongst guests lined up at the Serpentine Gallery excitedly awaiting Bonner’s return to LFW after a short absence was supermodel Naomi Campbell.
The collection was in direct dialogue with an exhibit the designer is currently showing at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, entitled “Time for New Dreams.” The collection and the exhibition both explore black identity and mysticism and the exhibit's title references Nigerian writer Ben Okri’s collection of essays of the same name. As the models walked through the exhibit, Okri recited a poem created especially for Bonner, as Ishmael Reed took to the piano to play a jazz composition. These writers provided great inspiration for the designer, who said in an interview that their writing “connects back to spiritual origins of the Afro-Caribbean diaspora.” According to Bonner, they connected her to ideas that allowed her to be who she is. Fittingly, Mumbo Jumbo explores black male identity and African intellectualism. Bonner sought inspiration from the intellectual dress at Howard University, the first historically black higher education institution in the United States. Flipping through yearbooks, Bonner used recurring items like varsity jackets and tailored blazers and repurposed them for her collection. The American dress was contrasted by voodoo accessories like feathers and jewelry, adding an aura of mysticism and magic. As for footwear, the backless brogues were created exclusively for the collection by Manolo Blahnik.
Grace Wales Bonner’s exhibition “Time for New Dreams” is on view at the Serpentine Galleries until March 17th.