Goodie Bag: Boyy Hits Bangkok
By the time Jesse Dorsey finally touched down in Florence late last month, his flight, like those of countless others en route to Europe, had been canceled three times. Though exhausted, Dorsey, who designs accessories label Boyy with partner Wannasiri Kongman, was also anxious to get to Tuscany, where he had set up appointments with a few tanneries in anticipation of their fall collection. “We keep a tight ship with leather suppliers in Italy,” Dorsey, who described his first experiences as both enlightening and hellish, explained. “This is, after all, one of the most important components–and one of the most volatile.” Having crisscrossed between New York, Bangkok and Italy nearly non-stop for the past four years, Dorsey’s more than racked up his share of frequent flier miles. Luckily, the gypsy lifestyle’s been paying off.
Prior to launching Boyy four years ago, Montreal-born Dorsey was a musician and producer, arriving in New York in 1993 to pursue a burgeoning, post-university career. DJ-ing gigs quickly followed, with Dorsey ultimately writing and composing music for Milla Jovovich and the Beastie Boys, scoring music for Cirque du Soleil, and performing in 90s neo-glam band Nancy Boy (yes, that Nancy Boy). Roughly 10 years later however, Dorsey found himself ready for a change, eager to channel his creativity in a distinctly different capacity. Meeting Bangkok-born FIT student Wannasiri “Boyy” Kongman proved fortuitous.
A womenswear buyer in her native Thailand, Kongman knew she wanted to design handbags upon arrival in the U.S. A commission to create a style similar to her own DIY, Birkin-esque model for one Marie Claire editor catalyzed Kongman’s then-nascent efforts. That, and months of prodding from Dorsey. The duo soon began collaborating in earnest, sketching, researching, and sourcing material for what would become their first collection under the Boyy label for Spring 2006. Like all of their wares since, the first handbags–christened “Pablo,” “Leonard” and “Serge”–were named after influential (and always male) personae, in effect creating the perfect companion to their wearer. As Dorsey and Kongman see it, the woman is, and always should be, the main attraction.
Since its inception, the label has steadily built an international customer base by creating anti-status bags of the sort passersby might covet without ever knowing–or caring about–their designer provenance. With an emphasis on luxe utility, the look is subtly elegant, decidedly untrendy, and charming without ever appearing precious. In lieu of logos, doodles from Thai pop artist Kongpat Sakdapitak line the bags’ interiors. Thread is sourced from Germany, hardware from Italy. The pieces are multi-functional, converting from day bag to oversized evening clutch by removing chains–many of which function as either straps or handles. “Our product can stand up to any big-name, high-end label in terms of materials and quality,” Dorsey says matter-of-factly. “We only ever want to leave the design up for debate.”
Granted, when it comes to garnering attention, having a few fashionable females in your corner never hurt. Dorsey first met one of the label’s best known fans, a pre-Kids Chloë Sevigny, in New York, staying in touch over the years. Sevigny liked what she saw in the French-Canadian, and the bag appeared with her in Self Service‘s S/S 2007 issue. Following French actress Lou Doillon’s star turn with the Slash bag (a street shot that both aided sales and helped land Boyy in the New York Times‘ Styles section) the designers saw fit to create new incarnations the next season, as well as a python-flapped limited edition.
Exotic skins and custom hardware necessarily up the price of any handbag, yet Boyy’s wares have always been extremely reasonably-priced. While an obvious benefit to consumers and a fact of which Boyy remains proud, retailers are occasionally perplexed on the placement front. Dorsey recalls one prominent buyer who loved the bags, but, unsure of which floor to house them, then asked whether they might raise their SRPs. That was a no-go, and Dorsey indeed concedes “there’s still a real prejudice regarding price points. If it’s not expensive enough, then maybe it’s not worthy of a particular shelf space.” But, he adds, “we’re committed to maintaining our status quo.” Thus far the gamble appears to be paying off, particularly abroad. Currently the bags sit alongside the likes of Givenchy, Marc Jacobs and Fendi in Hong Kong’s On Pedder, Liberty of London and Colette.
Boyy’s biggest development to date occurred just weeks ago with the launch of their first boutique in Bangkok’s Central Chidlom department store. With Asia currently the label’s biggest market, and the opportunity to secure a fist floor space amongst some seriously luxe peers, Dorsey considered the decision a no-brainer. Besides having a built-in support network which includes friends, family (and part-time at least, Kongman) the duo saw another advantage to setting up shop in Bangkok: a return to good old fashioned customer service. “We wanted to get back to more of an old school rapport, a one-on-one client relationship,” Dorsey explains.
To wit, Boyy has set up a consultation desk within the boutique where shoppers can choose from a selection of leathers, skins and embellishments to create a bespoke handbag. They’ll also be launching a collection of small leather goods, along with linen and canvas totes, with collectors’ apparel to follow. Should their latest endeavors prove successful, Dorsey and Kongman hope to expand their burgeoning business with additional stores. For the time being however, focusing on the Bangkok boutique will allow the globe trekkers to contain their expansive world purview just a bit. Or, as Dorsey envisions, “It’ll be like having our own little universe within the bigger picture.” Here’s to the stars aligning.