These Black Women Are Changing the Narrative of Men’s Fashion
In a world where men are generally seen as the purveyors of style within the fashion world and often regarded as the creative leaders of the ever-changing and popular fashion industry, we don't hear about women who are trailblazing in the same billion-dollar industry. March is Women’ s History Month, and we thought it would be the perfect time to shine a light on women who are changing the narrative of men’s fashion. That’s right! women who are setting the standards of style, grandeur, and sophistication within the men’s fashion industry. From the forefront to behind the curtains, these are 4 women, you should know:
Grace Wales Bonner
Founder Of Wales Bonner (@walesbonner)
Grace Wales Bonner, the founder of London-based menswear label Wales Bonner, designs menswear that could easily be seen as androgynous with detailed embroidery and embellishment. Her work is inspired by distinct historical figures, ranging from 20th Century Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie to Malik Ambar, a 16th Century Ethiopian slave who became a ruler in India. Her clothes express balance, sophistication, and most importantly functional fashion wear that examines questions of identity, race, and gender, particularly as it applies to men of color.
Born in Southeast London to a Jamaican father and English mother, Wales Bonner uses her mixed-race heritage as a key reference in her collections. Her work explores the representation of black male sexuality and identity, through exceptional craftsmanship and embellishments.
While studying at Central Saint Martins, her graduate collection, titled “Afrique” was shown in 2014 on a cast of black male models and won the L’Oréal Professional Talent Award. The following year, Wales Bonner debuted “Ebonics,” her Autumn/Winter 2015 collection, with Fashion East at London Collections: Men. In November 2015, she was awarded Emerging Menswear Designer at the British Fashion Awards. The following year it was the LVMH young designer prize, and in 2018 she won the British Land London emerging design medal.
Amongst her many accolades, she has lectured at Parsons School of Design in New York, been profiled in GQ, the Gentlewoman and Vogue and had her garments displayed at the Victoria & Albert Museum. This is what we call #blackgirlmagic.
Laurence Chauvin Buthaud is the founder behind Abidjan and Paris-based menswear label Laurenceairline, known for its use of graphic African textiles with contemporary tailoring. Raised between her birth country Ivory Coast and France, Laurence moved to Paris to study at the illustrious fashion design institution, Studio Berçot.
While showcasing her women’s line, men would often express an interest in her designs, even asking her to design clothes for them. Especially since she exhibited a unique flair for creativity within her fashion. With the minimal masculinity of men’s garb, she had the freedom to experiment and explore all proponents of fashion from color, to the pattern, and even varying textures. Quite a bit of her clothing is even androgynous in make.
Valuing bold aesthetics and sustainable development, the label merges creativity coming from Africa with the sophisticated standards of the modern societal way of life. This can be eloquently shown on her brand, Laurenceairline’s Instagram, which features bold colors, beautiful locations that highlight and compliment the models draped in the brand’s clothes.
Shantrelle Lewis is a curator, historian, critic, filmmaker, author, and fashion designer from New Orleans. Lewis received her bachelor's degree from Howard University in African American Studies and later earned a master's degree in African American Studies from Temple University. Her education and world travels have led her to author Dandy Lion: The Black Dandy and Street Style, clearly showing that blackness is not monolithic, nor is black masculinity.
The Dandy Lion presents and celebrates individual dandy personalities, designers and tailors, movements and events that define contemporary dandyism. Throughout the book, self-expression is communicated through personal style, clothing, shoes, hats, and swagger. Her book allows us to see Black men and their fashion sense through a different lens. Not only is she bringing awareness of the Dandy Lion, but she further shares and celebrates the lives and economic growth of African Americans via Shoppe Black. Shantrelle and her husband Tony O. Lawson founded Shoppe Black, a site that promotes Black-owned businesses and culture around the globe.
To tie in her fashion portfolio (pun intended), she is also the founder of William+James, a bow tie line that offers bespoke handcrafted bow ties inspired by the philosophies of WEB Dubois and James Baldwin. You can find more about this influencer via her IG blog--SHANTOLOGY.
Rashima Sonson is an Accessory Designer from New Orleans, by way of St. Croix. Sonson received her bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University’s College of Human Ecology in Fashion Design, Textile Science, and Merchandising. With over 14 years within the fashion industry—from sourcing, quality management, to manufacturing, her ultimate dream was to create her own fashion brand. She has always believed that conversations are the gateway to building relationships, and has used fashion as its catalyst.
In March 2014, she founded SONSON®, the first bow tie brand dedicated to fathers and sons. SONSON® was born during the unsuccessful search for a father-to-be gift for one of the founder’s brothers in 2013. Rashima Sonson decided to make a father and son bow tie as a gift that could be passed on from one generation to the next. The brand re-imagines its collection to appeal to customers who value family and tradition. Bow tie designs are inspired by cultural celebrations and personas. The ties range from traditional to luxury--the luxury units are made of leather, silk, Swarovski Stones, amethyst, pearls, onyx, fur and more. SONSON® distills the purest sensibilities of fashion and manifests them in stunning presentations that redefine the traditional bow tie.
The brand may be dedicated to fathers and sons, but their products have also captured the eyes of many female consumers looking for a fun new accessory piece to complement their #boss wardrobe. Every tie is handcrafted with the company's mission in mind -- to serve as a catalyst for conversations through fashion. She is creating art that compliments one's personality and that is wearable. We all know that conversations are the gateway to building relationships, and the company's mantra ”one son to another” echoes this. It’s clear that this designer was destined for this path--her last name says it all.
Since 2014, the brand has stayed true to its mission by hosting Annual Back to School Bow tie giveaways and partnering with nonprofits to support education for young men. In addition to the brand's philanthropic efforts, they have been featured in numerous publications and the founder was selected as one of NPR’s first Fellowship class of “How I Built This.”
It's apparent that these women are pushing the envelope on what is expected by women in the fashion space. Not only are they setting the tone of men's fashion, but they are using fashion as a medium to educate. Whether it's to enhance the diversity of fashion by showing that it's not gender-specific to curating the breath of its tapestry amongst black males. Their narrative is just the beginning of many more women to follow in this trillion-dollar space. Let’s keep this going and let us know of more black women who are changing the narrative of men’s fashion.