Conversations: Wannasiri Kongman and Jesse Dorsey, Boyy Boutique
You've seen the street style Instagrams. We caught up with the brains behind what could be the biggest and it-test accessory label to come out of Thailand, possibly ever.| July 18, 2018
These days, what with social media, the idea of an “It” anything seems to suggest a combination of effortlessness and haphazardness. As if the stars suddenly decided to align and poof, a certain something becomes an “It” thing overnight. The reality, of course, is a lot messier. Longer. More tedious. Such is the story of many of the most recognised bags in the business and the labels who made them, including the rising Boyy Boutique.
With a simple yet memorable name and a penchant for clean buckles, Boyy Boutique was founded in New York over a decade ago by Jesse Dorsey and Wannasiri Kongman, who are from Montreal and Bangkok respectively. The label drew attention quickly in the few short years that followed, including getting picked up for the hallowed shelves and racks of Colette in Paris. Already something of a well-kept secret amid the coolest of the cool, Boyy Boutique then truly came front and centre when the Instagram It girls came to be. The appearance of a Boyy bag on the streets of fashion week, not to mention on the arms of It girls like the magical Bella Hadid, is now a guarantee.
Of course, while Boyy’s bags certainly seem to be popping up all over Instagram like daisies, it wasn’t created overnight. We caught up with Jesse and Wannasiri to ask them about how it all happened and their secrets to an It bag.
Hey, you two! How are you today?
Wannasiri: Great! We are on the train from Milan to Rome.
Before we begin, I have to ask – why the name BOYY?
Wannasiri: Being Thai, most everyone has a nickname. Mine happens to be Boy. All my friends and family have been calling me that since as long as I can remember.
Jesse: So, when we were brainstorming possible brand names, I thought that since our aesthetic is masculine accessories for women, as well as always naming bags with male names, why not name the brand BOY, and add a second Y to signify two people?
How did it all begin for BOYY?
Jesse: When I met Wannasiri in New York City, we would spend a lot of time roaming the streets, from Alphabet City to Soho to the Upper East Side. I quickly became very, very aware of Wannasiri’s incredible obsession with handbags as she would point out every women’s handbag to me during these walks, inform me of the brand and share with me her personal critique of that bag being analysed. Over some time I finally said to her, “Hey, let’s stop talking about all these bags and let’s design one.” I was in the music industry at the time, but any form of creativity was stimulating to me. We quickly got to work , starting from zero, researching where to buy some leather in the city and finding a pattern maker.
Did either of you ever think that you would end up in the business of fashion?
Wannasiri: I kinda knew. I styled and choreographed fashion shows during school when I was 15. However, I never thought I would be running a fashion brand.
You were a couple before you were business partners. What is your collaborative relationship like? Are you like two peas in a pod or are you more yin and yang?
Wannasiri: More like two tigers in a cage hahaaa. We used to fight a lot over designs, but now we are more calm and we help each other. We know better who is good at which part. Jess is very good at designing complex bags. He designs Karl and Romeo, which to me are so difficult!
Jesse: Yes, there’s incredible friction between us when it comes to design, however diamonds can only be produced with incredible friction and pressure. It’s essential for me to hang on to this belief.
The very first bag you created was inspired by the idea of the “It” bag. What do you think are the elements that make an “It” bag?
Jesse: Ironically, when we had our first “It” bag in 2009, which we called Slash, it was being hailed as the “anti-It bag”. At the time of design, women’s accessories were super feminine and very bling-bling. I suppose we were subconsciously combatting this aesthetic which helped develop something “new”.
The BOYY signature is an oversized, minimal buckle. Was it always there or something that came to be?
Wannasiri: This buckle series – especially the Bobby bag – are the bags of my dreams. I swear we have tried to make something like this so many times and we were never quite sure about it – until the day we sampled the Bobby silhouette. Then, I put my own vintage belt around it and I knew this was it.
So, you had an idea for what could be a really great bag, but you were young, you didn’t have much by way of resources. What was that push that led you to say “okay, we have to do this”?
Jesse: We both have a lust for learning and equally or greater ambition and competitiveness running through our blood. It wasn’t a question we asked ourselves – we basically stripped naked, left everything behind and jumped into unknown waters headfirst believing there was some type of pearl to obtain.
What was that moment when BOYY’s popularity really took off? What was that defining pinch-me moment?
Wannasiri: When Colette put in their order on our very first collection in 2006, I guess. I had never been there, but when I told my friends who were working in fashion industry, they were like screaming! I just had an absolute pinch-me moment. Sarah Jessica Parker recently carried our Bobby bag to the late night show in NYC. I reposted the image on my social media feeds and got so many comments. Long story short, Sex and the City inspired me to move to New York. I found myself, found Jess and started BOYY.
Jesse: We’ve gone through waves of popularity since our launch. However, when we had a cover page story in the NYTimes’ Sunday Style section in 2009, that was really something.
Since we’re on the topic, what are some of your favourite places in Bangkok?
Wannasiri: So many great spots around where I live, which is in the area of Thonglor and Sukhumvit. I love SIMPLE Natural Kitchen, Pathom Café, Tribe Cafe, Sukhumvit 31 and of course, BOYY & SON cafe. I still love going to JJ market for some vintage digging. I also drive one hour to get to Somsak Seafood Claypot.’ Its the best of the best.
BOYY doesn’t just do bags now, you also have shoes and – pardon my pun – but boy, are they street style ready. Was the process of creating them experimental, like the bags, or were you more sure about your designs the second time around?
Jesse: Sure, equally experimental. The only difference is we never set timetable on when we should release our first shoes, or how often, or how many. We let ourselves drive the shoes, not the market.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned about yourselves and as designers since launching BOYY over a decade over?
Wannasiri: It’s ok to be difficult and to say no to things you don’t like. You have to be true to yourself and do what you think its best for you.
Jesse: Don’t fear or deny ‘sacrifice’. It’s the offering to something greater.
Now, for the the less serious stuff. What is a day in the BOYY design studio like?
Wannasiri: Super busy always and I don’t know why. My team says I often add more details, changing materials and have more ideas, so there is always work to do.
Jesse: It does seem to be a never-ending loop of decisions, ideas and trials, but it’s what we all signed up for, probably wouldn’t want it any other way.
What sort of music would be playing in the background as you work?
Wannasiri: I usually dont listen to the music while working but maybe I should try. There will be lots of ’80s and ’90s rock like Queen, Bon jovi, Guns N’ Roses and Aerosmith.
Jesse: I don’t listen to music either during work, I find it gets in the way of my thoughts. Call me weird.
What is the strangest thing that has been inspiring you lately?
Wannasiri: Portrait paintings of women from the past. They dressed so well – makes me want to design bags for them.
Jesse: Milanese architecture. Not strange I suppose, but connected it to what women accessory design might be.
What are your guilty pleasures of the moment?
Wannasiri: Vintage shopping! I can’t stop. When I see something really nice in my size , I have to get it otherwise I would just be thinking about it and it’s quite an annoying feeling.
Jesse: Driving a ’70s Berton-Bertone-designed Ferrari.
Umar 13 embellished leather bucket bag
Karl 21 buckled leather tote
Deon suede belt bag
Karl 24 buckled leather tote
Yeuxlet embellished leather mules
Buckled leather slides
Buckled leather slides
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