When an international luxury brand that has made its mark for more than four decades decides to refresh itself, what does it do? The first step leather expert Bonia took was to reinforce its familiar trademark by adding another B to its logo.
The label debuted its Neu B logo in Kuala Lumpur recently, together with a Neu Romantic collection cut from the fabric of journeys and dreams. Both take off from a point rooted in heritage, with an eye on the horizon, where fresh possibilities lie.
The Neu B stands out for its font — ornate, bold, wrought-iron lettering characteristic of the Renaissance period, finished with contemporary finesse. The two interlaced Bs, one larger than the other, reflect the brand’s evolution from when it started out with seven workers in a factory in Geylang, Singapore. Today, it has presence worldwide, including more than 20 outlets in Malaysia.
“Modernism pays homage to tradition” says it best for Bonia’s plans, going forward. It was established in 1974 by Chiang Sang Sem, now group executive chairman, who was inspired by Italy, the Renaissance era and Flemish sculptor Giambologna (1529-1608), who was in that hub of creativity and reputedly the greatest sculptor of his day.
The brand, known for craftsmanship that reflects an appreciation of the visual arts, takes its name from Bologna, a city famed for food and historic architecture.
As befits its contemporary direction, the Neu campaign is led by young talent brought in to transform Bonia into a lifestyle brand that offers more than just handbags, shoes and accessories. A homeware line is in the pipeline as well as furniture, with capsule collections in the mix.
Items such as pottery and tableware are part of head of design Tengku Syahmi’s three-year plan to upgrade to a more comprehensive range of offerings. “A lot of customers say, we really like this print [on a bag]. How about you make a cup with it? We get a lot of such suggestions. If they are asking for it, I think we can do it.”
Creative director Jonathan Liang says fashion should be for everyone. Popular with an older group of clients who have grown with it over the years, Bonia now targets “the young ones who are missing out” and aims to communicate directly with this fresh market.
“There is a seamlessness in what we have, from the bags to accessories. Anyone can carry them, from 20-year-olds to those aged 60. You just have to create a good product and make it accessible online,” adds Syahmi.
The pair, friends from when they were at Raffles Design Institute in Singapore, are eager to let their imagination take them to an immersive universe shaped by a simple brief. “Our chairman just said, ‘Let’s create something new’,” says Syahmi. Thus, began their Bonia journey.
Visitors to Bonia’s main store in Pavilion KL will get a clearer picture of what pushing back the frontiers entails, starting with fresh shades — vermillion, orange, green, brown — that add character to the walls and sync with a journey that takes one through a mirage to an oasis. Donce Floristry’s surreal arrangements and artist Chong Yan Chuah’s 3D renderings make the whole experience feel magical.
Pause every few steps and reach for pieces from Neu Romantic, a collection with patterns, textures and materials that one should touch to appreciate. Each design has its unique appeal; together, they represent a purposive focus.
Miley is all about glee and grace, with its ultra-feminine silhouette and clean edges. Designed for the professional who finds she has to switch from formal to casual as day turns into night, it is versatile for both work and play.
The story behind Bonia’s Samothrace is as enchanting as the Hellenistic sculpture that inspired the roomy tote. The Winged Victory of Samothrace, an armless marble sculpture that takes pride of place at the Louvre, is about Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. Artful drapery draws attention to this arresting piece, which conjures up the image of a goddess descending to alight upon the prow of a ship.
If fitness is your thing, the Dravmo, embossed with a geometric pattern that evokes Bonia’s heritage monogram, combines tradition and function with a contemporary touch. Meghan, like its namesake, the Duchess of Sussex, is cut out for a modern-day icon, with the Neu B logo obvious against the radial pattern on the front façade. It is vibrant, striking and just the thing to entice younger customers to adopt the brand that fuses creativity with Italian flair.
The City of Canals is the inspiration for Bonia’s Venice bag, introduced in the 1990s. The bag has been reimagined with bold charm and whimsical glamour for a new generation. It is secured with a pretty gold padlock in the form of the double B logo to ensure that its contents stay safe.
Men are not forgotten by the design team at Bonia. There is the Digouflage cross-shoulder sling bag, inspired by military prints, while the Astron bag looks to the future of space commuting and is suitable for busy workdays and wild weekends.
This article first appeared on Nov 9, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.