Howard University Alumni On Being The Inspiration Behind Wales Bonner’s Fall/Winter 2024 Show

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Howard University Alumni On Being The Inspiration Behind Wales Bonner's Fall/Winter 2024 Show

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Alumnae from historically Black universities tend to be very proud of their institutions. Howard University graduates and other alumni keep memorabilia like sweatshirts, hats, bumper stickers and so on to commemorate their time in school. This is why it felt significant that at the Wales Bonner’s Paris Men’s Week Fall/Winter 2024 runway show, Howard University received multiple nods from the designer. The range was largely inspired by a research project she’s working on with the Washington, DC institution and her time at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. Bonner recently told Vogue about her affinity for Howard’s “amazing literary heritage” and the ‘90s archives she was able to comb through. The school’s yearbooks also sparked her attention. Similarly, the designer’s latest collection sparked a conversation amongst Black creatives in fashion and those who are graduates of the school too.

Many times, we see Blackness commodified through cultural appropriation. But given that Wales Bonner is a Black brand and often tells stories through the lens of Blackness, the intent behind her latest collection is largely viewed as positive. We were curious whether or not this ideal would stop non-Howard alumni from wearing pieces from this collection. It depends on who you speak to, but some alumni aren’t bothered by this. 

“It’s cool to know how inspired [Grace] was by Howard, enough to put together a high fashion collection based around it. That’s not something you see often,” shared music executive Mike Hamilton, a proud Howard alum. Two other former Howard students Nia Groce, a writer based in Oregon, and Sharmaine Harrison, a women’s ready-to-wear buyer, agreed that the previous runway moment gave historically Black institutions a wider audience.

Harrison shares in an email that she would love nothing more than to walk through the New York City streets and see her university receive love and pride. “It’s common to see this amongst Ivy Leagues, the Big Tens, so why not an HBCU?” Harrison shares. Hamilton notes that non-graduates wearing Howard merchandise is a testament to Wales Bonner but it also showcases what Howard means to people in a broader spectrum in culture.

Howard University Alumni On Wales Bonner’s Nod To Their Alma Mater
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Groce states that she’s hopeful the university will be researched more alongside the “extensive scope of HBCU and American history.” She adds: “However, when that hope doesn’t pan out, the concern comes in. No one wants any historic symbol of their culture and a physical representation of their soul and pride to be appropriated or put on as a fad or mockery.”

Whether previous HBCU graduates have concerns or have no qualms with the use of their institution, the Wales Bonner show began a conversation that can be productive. The three alums agreed that the cultural significance of any HBCU being represented through a designer’s lens expressing education is of the utmost importance. The thought of someone who looks like you representing your alma mater in comparison to someone like Bonner uplifting a community made the nod to Howard much more impactful to Groce. 

Howard University Alumni On Wales Bonner’s Nod To Their Alma Mater
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Hamilton believes education to be a large determining factor to some in regard to one’s personal style: he noticed college paraphernalia being a common part of one’s outfits in any setting even beyond yearly homecoming celebrations. “Elevating [this] notion in collections such as the Wales Bonner one will only inspire the next generation to learn more about these great institutions. That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day: education and furthering one’s knowledge,” Hamilton noted. Harrison’s excitement hasn’t waned as the collection was done in a meaningful way and she believes that if this were to happen in the future again, if done for the right reasons she would support it. She is also excited to see how the campaign for the collection will pan out and how Howard will be incorporated into it.

“I don’t want the heart of the message which to me is educating the masses about why this institution matters to get lost in the merchandise,” Groce wrote. Notably, Wales Bonner’s recent show and the use of Howard’s likeness was well received. These three alums who follow fashion closely and respect Wales Bonner as a designer further speak to what can happen when the legacy of a community is in good hands. Their perspectives are reflective of the respect each of them have for their alma mater but also the immense value they feel the school holds to them on a personal level. The throughline of these notions at the end of the day is how the collection will further educate those who are unfamiliar with HBCUs. Through her presentation hopefully others can learn about the significance of HBCUs throughout the United States as well as their contributions to the nation.

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