Bonbom on designing for different bodies, BlackPink and Paris

Korean brand Bonbom is one of Lane Crawford’s new brands to know. Founder and creative director Jo Bonbom speaks to Zaneta Cheng about how open-mindedness, experimentation and a willingness to take on challenges have resulted in a lightning rise in fashion

Jo Bonbom

Jo Bonbom has been designing for icons his whole life. Growing up in the US state of Texas, he chose Barbies over robots or dinosaurs and would spend his time changing the dolls’ clothes and hairstyles. He cut their hair and styled their skirts, chopping everything up shorter and shorter until he couldn’t cut any further and it was then he began to dream of fashion shows where he could design collections and pieces for his Barbie dolls.

It was only when he came across a documentary about Marc Jacobs, who was then the artistic director of Louis Vuitton, that he decided to pursue a career in the fashion industry. First step, a degree in his native Korea, where he learned the craft for womenswear. After his stint in the army, Jo decided to head to the London College of Fashion for a master’s degree in menswear, researching tailoring, sportswear and workwear – elements he is now well known for in his design universe.

An internship with Glenn Martens at Y/Project later, he founded his namesake brand Bonbom and has since moved on from Barbie dolls to Blackpink, a journey Jo attributes to his open-mindedness, experimentation and curiosity in all aspects of fashion, including even fetish and underwear.

A look from the Summer 2023 collection.

Your pieces are sensual and yet incredibly well received by Gen Z. How do you see femininity and sensuality and how does this translate to your designs?

It’s crucial to consider the three-dimensional nature of the body when designing clothes – as well as the fact that everyone has a different body shape. It’s fascinating for me to observe people trying on the same garments from a collection because everyone has their own unique approach to showcasing their body. Some prefer to accentuate their legs, while others prefer their chest, waist and so on. I try to reveal different body parts or create tightness in certain areas to cater to these preferences.

My designs are ready-to-wear and finding ways to ensure a good fit for everyone is important but it can be challenging to define the sizing system between the West and the East. These difficulties can sometimes become inspiration themselves.

A medieval knight-inspired look.

Your pieces have seen incredible success with celebrities in South Korea. Can you tell us a bit more about how you got started and ended up designing for Blackpink?

Celebrities and idols request our products for their editorial shoots and concerts because we offer boldness and creativity that cannot be found in other brands. Once they try Bonbom, they realise that our garments make their bodies look sexy and cool.

During my time at Y/Project, I learned the importance of creating show pieces – even if they might not be commercially viable. As a brand that does runway shows, it is essential to showcase our message and creativity, even if it means creating statement pieces that may not sell. Show pieces are also crucial for us to showcase what we’re capable of creating to press and fashion industry insiders.

When collaborating with Blackpink, I was asked to reinterpret “punk” for performance in “Lovesick Girls”, “Playing with Fire” and “Don’t Know What to Do”. I enjoyed this challenge because these songs happened to be my own favourites of theirs. I created a destructive fashion look by reworking vintage T-shirts. I chose Metallica T-shirts with great colour combinations and graphics, then sewed them together to create one fabric, which I then pleated. Pleats are a key motif in my brand’s design language. I used this fabric to create garments such as waterfall shorts, chandelier skirts, lantern dresses and a corset-cut hoodie zip-up. I also used chequered fabrics to give a more direct punk effect on their performance wear.

After this collaboration, many other entertainment styling teams began requesting customised pieces from me to dress their artists. Unfortunately, because of my busy schedule, I tend to refuse most requests but I find the process of listening to the request and researching themes that I have not yet explored to be an interesting way to expand my design world.

A denim skirt with pleat detail.

You’re looking to move to Paris from Seoul, where your brand has been based since the beginning. Why Paris?

Paris is the city where many of the big fashion houses are located and I initially wanted my brand to be based alongside other brands that I admire. But once I actually created my brand and began doing business, reality hit. I realised that it would be enough to present my collection in Paris to feel that emotional connection I was looking for, rather than living there. There are also many hurdles to basing myself in Paris without the proper visa.

My dream is to be called upon by fashion houses and appointed creative director in the future. Until then, I’m satisfied owning and directing my brand from Seoul. It’s unfortunate that many people around the world now find Seoul attractive, but many natives who live there tend to forget its allure. As [Parasite director] Bong Joon-ho and BTS have put Seoul on the map, I hope to do the same in the field of fashion.

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