The star in stripes: Grace Wales Bonner’s collaborative coup with Adidas
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Bob Marley’s love for music might have been rivalled only by his penchant for football, as evidenced by myriad images of the Jamaican singer dribbling or juggling anywhere with enough space. More often than not he’d be clad in his signature slouch beanie, tube socks and at least part of an Adidas tracksuit, a look that translated on and off the pitch. “I love the layering of knitwear,” says fashion designer Grace Wales Bonner, “and how he manages to wear sportswear in a very elegant way.”
Wales Bonner came across Marley – as well as other exponents of Adidas’s unmistakable three stripes – while looking for inspiration for her collections, which often explore her British-Jamaican heritage. She noted that the stripes infiltrated more formal, tailored dress codes. “Adidas has always been naturally quite present in the time periods or the communities that I’ve been looking at,” says the 30-year-old designer. “They adopted sportswear but gave it a different meaning and wore it in a different context. I think it’s quite iconic.” A collaboration between the German brand and Wales Bonner, then, is a fitting way for the designer to incorporate the sportswear into her broader creative vision. Launching this month, the capsule comprises sneakers and ready-to-wear – namely tracksuits, football shirts, and tailored trousers and overshirts – created with a luxurious skew. The three stripes, for example, are made out of intricate crochet instead of a block of white material. Wales Bonner sought extra stimuli at Adidas’s archive in Germany, where she was drawn to silhouettes from the ’70s, the decade the brand debuted its casualwear line Freizeit (a German word for leisure). She also revelled in the brand’s documentation and understanding of who adopted different styles and when. “There was such acute awareness of [Adidas’s] relationship with culture and how the brand has been embraced.”
The capsule debuted as part of Wales Bonner’s autumn/winter collection, presented in Lindley Hall in Westminster back in January. Titled Lover’s Rock, it was a celebration of the communities that congregated in London’s blues clubs in the ’70s. “I looked at this romantic form of reggae that was created by the British-Caribbean community,” says Wales Bonner. “Photographers such as John Goto were important references, and I was really interested in these young individuals and their style, and how they mixed elements of what I imagine to be Savile Row tailoring and sportswear in this quite fluid and irreverent way.” The clothes fused the sartorial tropes of Great Britain – such as Argyll patterns, Shetland wool sweaters and windowpane-check tailoring – with elements that represented a connection to the Caribbean: “a different colour scheme or different rhythmicality”.
The same relationship is explored in Wales Bonner’s s/s ’21 collection, Essence, unveiled in mid-September, accompanied by a short film shot in Kingston. This looked at the origins of dancehall in Jamaica in the late ’70s and ’80s, translating to a vibrant palette and a more sporty feel. Here also, the Adidas partnership continues, with tri-colour Superstar sneakers, track jackets and micro running shorts bearing the brand’s motif.
“Grace’s ability to balance elegant modern tailoring with forward-thinking fashion and a splash of something casual is truly standout,” says Damien Paul, head of menswear at MatchesFashion, which stocks Wales Bonner’s main line as well as the Adidas collab. “Her intellectual approach to menswear always resonates with our customers.”
Wales Bonner does have a particularly studied, polymathic method for designing clothes. Before studying fashion design at Central Saint Martins, and launching her brand in 2014, the designer toyed with the idea of a career in art. Ultimately, she decided clothing was a more immediate way of communicating ideas about representation and identity.
“With Wales Bonner, I want to infuse European ideas of luxury with an Afro-Atlantic spirit,” she says. “I think it’s really important to be able to create a luxury brand that comes from a black cultural perspective. And for that to have an important place in society.”
Her vision has placed her as a figurehead for a new generation of designers. It’s also earned her an impressive list of accolades: she won Emerging Menswear Designer at the British Fashion Awards in 2015, the LVMH prize in 2016 and the BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund in 2019. Last year she was invited by Dior creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri to reinterpret the house’s Bar jacket and New Look skirt, which she turned into an homage to Caribbean domestic craft. And she has recently joined the University of Applied Arts Vienna as head of fashion, taking over from Jil Sander design duo Lucie and Luke Meier.
Wales Bonner is obviously keen to share her ideas on a broader scale. The Adidas collaboration is one way, offering a slice of her designs at a more attainable price point than the main collections. This month she’s also launching a digital platform called Between Critique and Hope as an extension of her own research and a resource providing educational content around black aesthetic practice. “I wanted to open up and connect with other credible archivists who have been doing amazing work,” says Wales Bonner. “It’s giving visibility but being able to present resources in a way that’s accessible.” Making the designer’s ideas, conversations and references – from images of Bob Marley kicking around a football to poems by Jamaican writer Ishion Hutchinson – more perceptible to everyone.