London fashion week: Grace Wales Bonner riffs on 70s London reggae

Models backstage prepare for Grace Wales Bonner’s show at Lindley Hall in London. Photograph: Tabatha Fireman/Getty/BFC

Lovers Rock, the reggae genre popular in London in the 70s and 80s, had an unexpected moment in the fashion spotlight on Sunday night at the capital’s menswear shows. Grace Wales Bonner, a much-hyped designer who has dressed Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, dedicated her London fashion week collection to the music, and the scene that surrounded it more than 40 years ago.

Bonner’s collection drew heavily on the Rastafarian colours Photograph: Stuart Wilson/BFC/Getty

Lindley Hall, a grand building in equally grand SW1, was transformed into a homage to a youth centre. Guests including the artist Isaac Julien, the footballer Héctor Bellerín and poet Wilson Oryema sat at round tables, and fruit punch and Jamaican patties were offered as refreshments. In the show notes provided, Wales Bonner explained that she was inspired, in part, by John Goto’s photographs of second-generation British Caribbean and Asian young people at Lewisham youth centre for lovers rock parties. The soundtrack – put together by Jamie xx – was blasted out of speaker stacks, as it might have when these images were taken.

The collection stuck close to the theme. It began with a crisp wool suit with a polo neck – a classically 70s combination, but with a minimalism that did away with any accusations of retro. Across women’s and menswear, trenchcoats, knits, tracksuit trousers and donkey jackets followed, along with shirts printed with paintings by the British-Guyanese artist Frank Bowling.

The red, gold and green of the Rastafarian flag were used on hats, vests and coats. All the clothes felt modern despite the references. This is one of Wales Bonner’s strengths. While her references are so academic that she provides a bibliography for each collection, she is able to translate her area of historical interest – be it lovers rock, Howard University in the 60s, or the court dress of Haile Selassie – into clothes that people want to wear.

The show featured polo necks, trenchcoats, knits, tracksuit trousers and donkey jackets Photograph: Stuart Wilson/BFC/Getty

After the show, Wales Bonner – a somewhat serene presence in the usually frenetic world of a fashion show – explained that the inspiration for this show had been, as she put it, “inevitable” because of its proximity to her own background, and her Jamaican father’s experiences in London in the 70s. “I was thinking a lot about people coming into community centres and creating their own parties,” she said. “I was looking at John Goto’s Lovers Rock series and saw my family reflected in it.”

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