• Text Finn Blythe
  • 23rd January 2021

For the third and final installment of her investigation into the trans-Atlantic cultural ties linking Britain and the Caribbean, Grace Wales Bonner used her FW21 Black Sunlight collection to illuminate the seminal contributions of Black scholars in the UK. As is typical of the designer, this collection is grounded in historical research, threading connections between visual art, academic theory, music, poetry and literature.

At the heart of this synthesis is the work of Saint Lucian poet and playwright Derek Walcott, whose essays on post-colonial West Indian national identity earned him a Nobel Prize in 1992. Walcott’s work provided a portal into that of Black diasporic radical thinkers of the 1980s, many of whom attended Oxford University and made invaluable contributions to British cultural consciousness – particularly by introducing previously non-existent positions on post-colonial legacy.

The result is a collection in three parts that combines to enrich our understanding of each. First is a digital online zine, comprising poems from Walcott as well as Barbadian writer Kamau Brathwaite. The pictures that accompany these texts are stills taken from The Light of Black Sunlight, a beautifully shot film (directed by Jeano Edwards) that moves between the lush scenery of Port Antonio and Kingston in Jamaica to London’s pioneering Goodenough College, all sound tracked by the poems of Walcott and the transcendent music of Laraaji.

The culmination of all these fascinating areas of research arrives in the clothes, of course. Tailoring stars throughout, yet in spite of the obvious scholarly references (and the academic location of the lookbook – Goodenough College) never feels prim or stuffy. Instead there’s a sense of fluidity, an ease and softness to the cut that reflects the flowing, lyrical words of Walcott and Brathwaite. Notable highlights arrive in the collection’s hand-made embellishments, including a vibrant series of hand-printed shirts by acclaimed British Jamaican artist Joy Gregory, an equally striking look of Indian embroidery and a collaboration with Saville Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard, which subverts the traditional boating stripes with a new Afro-Atlantic sensibility.