From aunties to party girls

The new designs for accessories label Bonia (left) target younger women.
The new designs for accessories label Bonia (above) target younger women.PHOTOS: BONIA
Bonia's new creative director Pepe Torres (left) was the head designer for womenswear, menswear and accessories at Burberry.
Bonia's new creative director Pepe Torres (above) was the head designer for womenswear, menswear and accessories at Burberry.

Bonia is injecting youth into its label with a new creative director

For much of his career, the brand Bonia meant little to ex-Burberry designer Pepe Torres.

Now, the 49-year-old lives and breathes the Singapore brand as its creative director.

It was on a personal visit to Singapore two years ago that he first encountered the 41-year-old accessories brand while shopping. What struck him about it was its attention to quality.

"I started asking material suppliers in Italy what they knew about Bonia and I heard very good things," says the Spaniard during a phone interview with Life from Hong Kong, where he was on a personal trip.

A few months later, he met Bonia's executive director, Mr Daniel Chiang, in Paris by chance when a friend introduced them at a lunch. This meeting led to his appointment as creative director last year. Mr Chiang's father, Mr Chiang Sang Sem, started the brand.

A lot of people have this impression that we make bags for older women, but it's changing. Our goal is to create something more fun.

Mr Torres, who has spent more than two decades in the fashion industry, has been tasked with revitalising the brand and making it attractive to a new generation of consumers, says a Bonia spokesman.

"A lot of people have this impression that we make bags for older women, but it's changing. Our goal is to create something more fun," says Mr Torres.

Bonia's signature monogram fabrics have been closely associated with "aunties", who are attracted to the brand's affordable prices, which range from $300 to $400, and functional designs. Sales have been brisk at the public-listed company. Profits rose year-on-year between 2010 and last year. Bonia Singapore saw a turnover of $25.6 million last year.

Globally, the brand has 57 stand-alone boutiques and 412 points of sale in countries such as Malaysia, Japan and Cambodia.

In Singapore, it has six stand-alone stores and 18 other points of sale, which contribute about 20 per cent to its global sales.

In his first collection for the brand, which will be launched in September, Mr Torres has created a wider offering of clutches and new colours to appeal to a party- going crowd.

"I have very ambitious plans for Bonia. I want to create a lifestyle brand, but this will take time, " says the Barcelona-based designer, who also runs a fashion consultancy there. With Bonia occupying most of his time, he says he flies to Kuala Lumpur at least four times a year, where the bag company is headquartered.

He spent 10 years at British luxury brand Burberry, where he was head designer for womenswear, menswear and accessories, before moving on to Spanish luxury label Loewe. Earlier in his career, he worked within the design teams at Mango, Antonio Miro and Carolina Herrera.

He says that his experience at established heritage brands such as Burberry and Loewe has taught him how to build brand icons that will stand the test of time. For example, he updated the design of Loewe's Amazona bag in 2003. The bag was first launched in 1975 and has gone through several incarnations. It is now among Loewe's bestsellers.

In his opinion, Bonia's Sonia bag, which was launched at the end of 2013 and named after Taiwanese model-actress and Bonia ambassador Sonia Sui, will be valued in years to come because of its unique hat-like shape. In fact, he hopes for it to become a classic like the Hermes Birkin.

"The Hermes Birkin is a bag from the 1980s, but it is still relevant today and carried by women of various age groups. Similarly, we want to keep the Sonia and constantly refresh its image by crafting it out of different materials," says the bachelor.

The upcoming Autumn/Winter 2015-2016 collection will see the traditionally leather Sonia bag come in an embellished version for the first time, with embroidery and beading.

Torres says: "I'm not here to start a revolution, I'm creating an evolution."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 30, 2015, with the headline 'From aunties to party girls'. Print Edition | Subscribe