Long ago and not so far away, my husband and I ran an international 'fashion accessory' business, as the category was titled in retailing. We had a manufacturing loft in New York, with a showroom. The company name was bonwillum designs, a contraction of our two names, Bonnie and William. The name had the successful "b" sound of the era, as in Henri Bendel's, Bloomingdales and Bergdorf Goodman. We were told buyers associated the names, and our work was sold in Japan, Germany, Brazil, England, France and Italy, as well as across the US.
This holiday season, after a quarter century dormancy, bonwillum designs re-emerges in the Kos Katalogue, like a phoenix from the ashes.
Maple Locking Comb for medium-long hair - $38
Hair Combs come with a how-to brochure
Some of the pieces pictured are available in multiples. Some are one-of-a-kind. I'll share some of the story that lies behind the pieces.
My SO Bill has a fine arts background. He's attended major art schools and his work has appeared in museums and is held in private collections. He is also from a long line of inventors, and he invented the craft we use to make our handcrafts. Using simple shop equipment like band saws and belt sanders, he developed the techniques we use to make beads, hair combs, pins, earrings and bracelets. I then learned to gold leaf, paint, stain and lacquer pieces in addition to natural finishes, and we both designed using his craft.
We were always careful about what woods we used. Bill had gathered the beautiful rosewoods he used initially from scraps from a furniture factory in New Jersey. We were green in our use of wood before green was cool. Bill is Scots on both sides of his family, and thrift and conservation are as natural to him as breathing.
In our heyday in New York, we were in most major department stores chain wide, like Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue. One Christmas our jewelry was featured in windows lining a city block in Bloomingdale's, and the store's elite fashion accessory/jewelry boutique, Cul de Sac, heavily featured our pieces in its front window and interior cases. Bendel's and Bergdorf's window designers loved to accessorize using our jewelry.
Assorted haircombs with quarter for scale - $15-45
Our visibility was enhanced by our appearance in Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, and in many runway shows. We accessorized some ten seasons for Calvin Klein, several for Oscar de la Renta and Stephen Burrows, as well as many other designers. Runway and magazine credits created the open-to-buys that brought in department store and boutique buyers to our Chelsea showroom. It was not unusual for Calvin Klein to have his limo drop by our shop, where he would rummage through our prototypes and models for inspiration to accessorize his shows. Calvin was our biggest fan among designers.
Cow Bone Necklace with Handmade Bone Clasp - $1350
Detail of Delrin Clasp
These necklaces were part of the collection we designed for Calvin Klein under his label. They are the only ones like it we have. It would take a couple of weeks to reproduce either one, and I don't know if we have the black Delrin to make the clasp for the ebony necklace. The wood is Gabon ebony, the darkest and most beautiful of ebonies. The wood was purchased by us in Toronto in a warehouse that carries only CITES-certified woods. As many species become endangered, it becomes more and more important to source materials.
The cow bone was made from steam-pressured, then buried-in-the earth bone that took a year to get the bleached, white appearance.
For a few years in the late seventies and early eighties, as our Vogue editor put it, we were "the top of the heap", and "a breath of fresh air". People magazine ran an article about us. New York Magazine had one of my gold-leafed star pins on a full page. Even today, pieces show up occasionally on eBay. (The listed price on the piece linked is way below wholesale.) When we were in full production mode, we employed up to two dozen hand crafters to manufacture our line.
The heap decomposed after a while, and the air became less fresh. We had a major internal theft problem that proved, in addition to my challenges with the business side of business, fatal to that iteration of bonwillum.
But this year, with the gracious assistance of Sara R, bonwillum designs is rising from the ashes of the past to bloom again in the Kos Katalogue. Like many other artists, craftspeople and designers on this site, the Katalogue is a great way to share our work with the Kos community. Sara R's encouragement has been the touchstone that has inspired many of us to participate, for which I'm very grateful.
This Five Prong Arch Top Haircomb holds a French Twist beautifully - $45
Thanks for visiting. Please kosmail me with any questions you may have, and re-visit the diary if you like our work. I will be posting additional items and pictures as I take them.
Arch Top Two Prong in Maple or Cherry - $15
Prices quoted include shipping. The PayPal address is busda at yahoo dot com.
Bill's Hand-Carved Black and White Delrin Bracelet with Toggle Clasp - $600
This is Bill's tour-de-force, where he figured out how to notch the black Delrin pieces so the white oval rings would snap together. When worn with the toggle clasp, the piece looks crisp and chic.
Maple Soft Trapezoidal Bangles - $40 each
These bangles look great singly or stacked together. There are also related soft oval and soft rectangular shapes that we made to mix and match. We still have the patterns, and can make them to order with about three weeks notice. They were bonwillum classics, and came either with a natural wood finish, or they were sometimes stained, lacquered, and gold-leafed.
J.H. Lartigue was a French fashion photographer who branched off into painting and did some inspired jewelry designs. Bill liked the forms he created, and did several variations on Lartigue's work, of which this bracelet is one.
Design has always been our inspiration. We love to explore new shapes and forms, and hope to put up several more pieces as we finish them.
All purchases will be sent using Priority Mail and will be boxed for protection. Again, the PayPal address is busda at yahoo dot com.