When people talk about Bonia, they often refer to it as one would a dear aunt or big sister – familiar, down-to-earth, dependable, classic. Fashion-forward or Instagram material? Perhaps less so. But if its new creative director has his way, the homegrown leather goods brand would be the Poppy Delevingne/Lily Aldridge kind of big sis – young, modern and stylish.

His name: Pepe Torres; his task: refresh the image of the 41-year-old company so that it’s known for more than being the office lady’s trusty go-to bag label (a rep that helped it earn a turnover of $25.6 million last year, no less.) According to the brand’s director FX Chiang, he was brought on board last year to kick-start an “evolution”.

He explains: “Pepe has over 20 years of experience in the fashion industry working with several luxury brands… With his appreciation of European savoir faire, he will bring to Bonia a more contemporary, refined style (that will appeal) to a new generation of customers, as well as offer a new lifestyle concept, while maintaining the brand’s DNA.”

The designer’s studio is filled with sketches and artwork that inspire him.

Hailing from Barcelona, where he is based and also runs a fashion consultancy firm, Torres first encountered the label two years ago while shopping on a visit here. “I was impressed by Bonia’s craftsmanship, the construction of its bags, and their unique shapes. And, of course, the qualities of the materials it uses – the leathers, metal trimmings, finishing and perfect details,” he says.

The 49-year-old would know about luxury standards – his resume includes head designer roles at high-end fashion houses such as Loewe, Carolina Herrera and Burberry. At the same time, a stint at high-street label Mango endowed him with what he calls “a special agility” when it comes to fashion trends.

Torres recommends the Dreamer tote for its clean look and textured leather.

“I always stay updated with trends, but the most important thing is to know how to adapt them to a brand’s needs and its customers’ expectations,” he says. “I always try to make my designs personal, contemporary and in line with the brand’s DNA. We must keep to its quality and heritage.”

At Bonia, part of this means striking a balance between quality and affordability – two traits that have been central to its appeal. “For us to work with the best materials, special finishing and expensive details – it’s not easy to have ‘ideal’ prices,” Torres admits. While he wouldn’t comment on whether his designs cost more, he says the brand will always try to offer “the best quality at the best, affordable prices”. The bags in his debut Fall/Winter ’15 collection, for example, ranged from $235 to $700.

Torres introduces the Annelise, an elegant shoulder bag with playful leather florets.
Torres introduces the Annelise, an elegant shoulder bag with playful leather florets.

Touchstones familiar among long-time customers will also remain. Chief among these: the use of sturdy, durable Saffiano leather and the brand logo. Says Torres: “We are a company with important background and history… Our collections will evolve year after year, season after season, but these two things will always be a part of our identity.”

Describing himself as a “curious and dynamic person” who likes to travel and meet people, Torres often draws on the new places he visits as a springboard for design ideas. “I’ve been inspired by the profile of Asian cities like Malacca with its ancient architecture. I love the Singapore skyline with all the beautiful buildings, the forms, shapes and lines. All of them enrich my mind and imagination, and that means my designs too,” he says.

The modern-meets-vintage Rialto with its architectural shape and contrast stitching
The modern-meets-vintage Rialto with its architectural shape and contrast stitching

For Fall/Winter 2015, these influences resulted in a line of elegant structured bags sporting clean lines in a variety of styles. Says Torres: “In order to create a complete architectural, modern look, we have developed some wonderful geometric shapes in a sophisticated colour palette, (each suited for) different times of the day.”

One of the new key styles, for example, is the Rialto, a boxy saddle-like satchel that also works as a top-handle. Besides classic all-black or brown, it comes in colour-block options, all complete with contrast stitching and an oversized tassel for a hip touch. For evening, there’s the petite Bonnie shoulder bag with its unexpected squarish shape (tassel included too). Torres has even put his playful spin on the brand’s signature Sonia, a trunk-like top-handle now swathed in multi-coloured leather florets.

Expect more evening styles like this Bonnie bag and embellished minaudieres (far left).
Expect more evening styles like this Bonnie bag and embellished minaudieres (far left).

All this is only the start to what he hopes will become a fully fledged fashion lifestyle brand. Says Torres: “Step by step, I would like to develop new product lines. Right now, I’m thinking of creating a scarf collection because I love this product and it can complement my bag collection perfectly. In the future, I would like for our customers to find in Bonia a total look with apparel and other accessories we don’t offer yet.”

An adapted version of this appeared in Female‘s November 2015 issue.

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