KUALA LUMPUR – “Bond, James Bond”. These are the immortal words Sean Connery uttered in 1992, one of the best dressed secret agents in the history of cinema, who has been charming and thrilling audiences worldwide.
Originally designed by Anthony Sinclair, Connery’s first Bond suit not only helped to establish this impeccable character created by author Ian Fleming as the dashing gentleman spy, but turned him into a style icon that men would emulate for decades to come.
Malaysia’s very own Bon Zainal Harun, 50, shares a similar sounding first name with the popular fictional British secret agent, 007.
The image consultant, fashion sifu and fashionpreneur is synonymous with his exclusive bespoke menswear designs, which have contributed to the resurgence in Malaysian men’s interest in fashion.
The much sought-after fashion icon brings with him a wealth of experience under the tutelage of Rick Pallack, the man who dresses celebrities such as Hugh Hefner, Sylvester Stallone, Arsenio Hall, Michael Jackson and Burt Reynolds.
Bon Zainal gained insight into the lifestyle of the rich and famous during his year-long job stint at Pallack’s boutique in Beverly Hills, California. His credentials also include working with Ralph Lauren Boutique in Beverly Hills and Garyï¿½s Tux (a tuxedo shop) at Studio City, California.
“I was once said to be playing safe by focusing on men’s suits. I have been making suits for the last 25 years and am still in this business, which is my niche market, with innovations on my Bon collections from time to time.
As long as we’re clear with what we’re doing, we shouldn’t be afraid of criticisms,” Bon Zainal told Bernama Lifestyle and Youth (LNY) at the Malaysia Fashion Week (MFW 2015).
At the MFW 2015, organised by the Malaysia External Trade Corporation (MATRADE) in partnership with Mercedes-Benz Malaysia and Stylo International from Nov 4 to Nov 7, Bon Zainal unveiled his signature ‘Songket Fusion’ collection, said to be the only one in the world, which was launched in Paris and Milan earlier.
“In Paris and Milan, I showcased a fusion of our Malaysian songket, often dubbed as the king or queen of cloth, which is luxuriously woven with gold or silver threads, for formal menswear,” he adds.
“To me, as long as it is Malaysian songket, which is traditionally worn by Malay royals or officials during formal ceremonies, it should be suitable for formal menswear. I call it super formal wear, ” says Bon Zainal, who is Advisor at Bon Fashion Legacy Sdn Bhd (BFL), a fashion vehicle which he founded in 2014.
“On the red carpet, instead of wearing tuxedos, why not wear a songket jacket with a bowtie,” he adds, citing luxury Italian fashion designers Dolce & Gabbana, who blend European and Indian elements in their collections, which include brocade jackets.
DEMAND FOR SONGKET JACKETS
“What they do is they buy brocade from India, which makes it cheaper rather than producing the material, as in the case of Malaysian songket, which is locally made,” says Bon Zainal, who is also President/Founder of Bon Zainal Menswear and Chief Everything Officer (CEO) of Bon Zainal and Associates.
“Our setback is that our songket is too expensive. You need about 5 metres to make a jacket with songket designs, which will cost around RM8,000. Normally, you would just need two metres of songket, but if you include the designs, with sleeves, then it will cost more,” he adds.
“No one songket is the same. that’s what makes our songket special. These are the things that attract overseas buyers. For Malaysians, the traditional songket is normally worn by wedding couples. It does not mean it should stop here. The market is out there,” says Bon Zainal.
From one of the shows, he notes, the buyers were willing to pay 5,000-8,000 Euros. “My problem is, it takes months to make the songket. This is one of the things we need to iron out and discuss with songket makers. They have to innovate.”
“It’s like producing Rolls Royce, which is rolled out of the factory, but yet quality and exclusivity are maintained.” Alot of groundwork needs to be done since his return from Paris and Milan, says Bon Zainal.
PARIS AND MILAN COLLECTIONS
The MFW 2015 saw a combination of Bon Zainal’s Paris and Milan collections. “I always believe the 2015/2016 collection should be practical, with more colours for men and a variety of patterns, yet maintaining masculinity.”
While creativity is important, he says designers must produce clothes which are ready for the market, that means saleable and practical for customers.
“Don’t just follow your head and produce clothes which are not saleable. Even if they are beautiful creations, you don’t want them to end up in the museum. Clothes designed must be ready to wear, not ready to swear,” adds Bon Zainal, whose tagline is ‘It’s Not What You Wear, But How You Wear It’.
“It is my dream that at the next music or film awards, celebrities wear the songket, just like wearing the uniform or what newly weds wear for their wedding ceremony.” While Bon Zainal has his own boutique and online business, he prefers to handle his customers personally.
“I believe in the saying, only busy people got time. Hence, I must know how to tap my niche market,” adds Bon Zainal, whose clientele ranges from top level corporate executives to ministers and industry players.
“Men love to be pampered. Some executives are willing to pay RM5,000 to RM6,000 for a suit. Men spend more on clothing, and they can be worse than women. Just like buying cars,” says Bon Zainal, who is known for ‘proper dressing’.
“Thank you to the government, especially MATRADE and the Malaysian International Trade and Industry (MITI) for their role in promoting Malaysian products and for supporting local designers since day one.”
On those who wish to follow his footsteps, he says young designers can join the association such as the Bumiputera Designers Association (BDA) and the Malaysian Official Designers Association (MODA).
Bon Zainal plays a very active mentoring role in the fashion industry which includes being BDA Vice-President, an active member of MODA as well as sitting on the fashion council and advisory board of various government agencies.
“Be with the crowd, from there you know the market and get the associations’ players views and ideas. Don’t be a jaguh kampung (village champion) – you’re only good at your place, but lack confidence elsewhere. You need to change your mindset.”
“Fashion is 90 per cent hardwork, 10 per cent glamour. Don’t chase glamour, glamour will come to you,” says Bon Zainal. He also chides designers who only appear during Hari Raya. “Personally, I prefer to look for fashion students who could contribute to the industry.”
As for celebrities, Bon Zainal says, they should learn fashion, instead of putting their labels on designs. Even Spanish actor Antonio Banderas who starred in high-profile Hollywood movies attended fashion school at the age of 50, he adds.
Malaysian designers can go far and tap the market in neighbouring Indonesia, especially, Jakarta, which has a population of 22 million people. “If we can tap 10 per cent of the Jakarta market, it would be splendid.”
Fashion designers in Malaysia cater to 30 to 40 per cent of the population, especially in the urban market. Clothing is a necessity, hence the demand for local designers, he adds.
“Designers must strive to be fashionpreneurs. Everybody can learn tailoring, pattern making, etc. To succeed, they must be able to meet clients and sell their products. Alot of hardwork.”
As designers, we are the content provider. As such our products must be of value and without us, there is no fashion week. We must have confidence, integrity, knowledge, and know the type of materials at your finger tips.”
On his succession plan, he says insyaAllah (God willing), he will pass the baton to his daughter. “Fashion is fun, but good stress as it is not a 9 to 5 job. There are times when you don’t sleep, and if you do, you sleep for long hours. You must know what you want.”
For a formal training in grooming and fashion styling, Bon Zainal enrolled at the School of Fashion & Merchandising in Los Angeles, California, graduating in 1985.
While in the US, he was a council member of the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Sherman Oaks, California as well as a charter member of GQ Magazine’s Reader report.
Upon his return from the United States in 1990, Bon Zainal joined Spark Manshop Holdings where he applied his knowledge and skills to the business of menswear custom tailoring and retailing.
He also oversaw marketing and promotions in his capacity as the corporate marketing director before deciding to start his own business.
With over two decades of experience in the industry, Bon Zainal has many accolades and awards under his belt, which include the Mercedes-Benz STYLO Fashion Awards ‘Designer of the Year 2014’ and the Mercedes-Benz STYLO Fashion Awards ‘Best Designer Showcase 2015,’ hosted by MATRADE.
He is also a highly acclaimed grooming consultant and has given talks, seminars and lectures to colleges, universities, and other private organisations.