Grace Wales Bonner, The Designer Tearing Down Gender Barriers

The LVMH Prize winner makes men's clothes women love to wear

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'I think of my collections as a whole - I wouldn't necessarily break them up into men's and women's,' says Grace Wales Bonner, the 25-year-old Central Saint Martins alumnus who currently sits firmly atop London's list of designers to watch.

With just three collections under her belt, she's already won three prestigious awards (including the LVMH Prize today, as well as Emerging Menswear Designer at the 2015 British Fashion Awards) and has been dubbed 'the heroine of menswear.' Yep, you read correctly. I am talking about a menswear designer. Or am I?

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Because here's the thing. That whole gender-fluidity movement happening right now? Wales Bonner's offering is at the core of it, and women are taking notice.

Her approach to eschewing labeling is not about pinstriped suits and an oversized shirt - it's much more imaginative and better looking than that.

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'I'm more interested in breaking down the conventional way things happen, I'm trying to disturb the framework,' she explains during a visit to her studio in East London. The SS16 collection, inspired by Malik Ambar, the 16th-century Ethiopian slave-turned-Indian-ruler, is peppered with cropped jackets dipped in Swarovski crystals and cowrie shells, sumptuous velvets, and hot-on-the-money topstitched wide-legged denim. Meanwhile her AW16 show, which she showed last week during LCM, advanced her impressive tailoring with jackets for men, and women, embroidered with rich beadwork.

Basically, it's fabulous and we want in - and you will too.

That's why retailers including Matches Fashion and LN-CC snapped up the collection for women.

Natalie Kingham, Buying director of Matches Fashion, explains the appeal: 'Her collection isn't about dressing androgynously or in a masculine way. It's cross-dressing in the same way women borrow from men's wardrobes, but with a luxury twist. It's been resized and cut for women; good-quality clothing works for everyone regardless of gender.'

The fact that Wales Bonner's approach to style aligns with the gender-fluid zeitgeist, she says, wasn't deliberate but 'something I've been conscious of,' as has championing other forms of diversity.

'My work is about showing non-prescriptive representation and pushing a broader spectrum of black representation.'

Hence you primarily see non-white models in her show, a move she defends.

'The industry is saturated with white models and, while I don't like the way people decide to "do a black show", this is simply a representation of beauty I'm trying to put out there.'

Identity underscoring her work is unsurprising - it's something she says she began thinking about when she first started to grapple with her half-Jamaican, half-English heritage as a student in secondary school in south London.

'People were telling me who I should be: black, white. As I got older, I realised there's no prescriptive way of being anything. You negotiate your own identity.'

You'd be forgiven for thinking Wales Bonner is intense, but she's not.

Her eyes light up when she talks about her love of dancing and she cringes when she recalls how much as a teen she loved her 'boyband jacket' from Next.

And while her ethos is intellectual, the bottom line is when you design menswear that women covet, you're making clothes everybody wants to wear.

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