Right now, menswear is going through one of its most radical changes since the Great Male Renunciation at the end of the 18th century, which saw men put away their frills and lavish silks and instead embrace the restrained suit. Today, the opposite is taking place: men are once more free to express themselves with all the things that have traditionally been reserved for women over the past century as designers challenge modern ideas of gender. Fur is a major part of this exciting new menswear landscape: a soft, precious and above all versatile material.
One of the designers at the forefront of this wave is Grace Wales Bonner. The Central Saint Martins graduate and recipient of last year’s prestigious LVMH Prize showed her AW17 collection in London last weekend, hailed as one of the week’s absolute highlights. She challenges the idea of the aggressive male, conjuring gentle and poetic collections – often embellished with dainty gemstones – that discuss gender and black representation, embracing diversity and togetherness.
This season she used fur for the first time, done in collaboration with Saga Furs, to underscore her quiet opulence. Last year, she had visited the Saga Furs Design Centre to play around with furs and gain insight into the products and techniques. “It was really interesting to see all the different processes and innovations developed there. I also enjoyed the chance to be in the countryside and reflect on the collection,” she says.
In her research Wales Bonner had been looking at Renaissance portraiture, citing Bronzino’s ‘Portrait of a Young Man’ and Anguissola’s ‘Portrait of Prince Alessandro Farnese’ in his ermine-lined jacket, drawing on the fur-trimmed costumes of the era. “I was interested in recreating the feeling in a more contemporary way,” she tells us.
The ermine look was interpreted through the striking beauty of Saga® Jaguar Mink, which lavishly adorned the cuffs on a pair of elegant black wool trousers, the collar of a black leather jacket and a Caribbean-influenced hat. Wales Bonner had worked with master milliner Stephen Jones on all the headgear, which also included a Rasta-renaissance leather cap with white mink trims. “Stephen Jones is a wonderful person to work with. He really understood the references and managed to make something that felt real whist still being very historical,” she says.
White mink also traced the seams of a cropped black leather jacket done in collaboration with esteemed leather makers Chapal, and a brown leather coat with a seventies vibe had a dark brown Saga Furs mink collar. Wales Bonner called the collection “elevated street,” and the show really brought out about the energy and beauty that comes from the meeting of different cultures and aesthetics: British tweeds, West Indian fineries, Florentine fur opulence and rockers. The soundtrack chanted “You’re free”, and that was very much the feeling imbued in the clothes: freedom of life, of expression and gender.