When I first moved to London, I was very much babe pig in the city. It was loud and crowded and shiny and there were beautiful things to buy. One of those things was a delicious velvet tub chair that sat in the window of Oliver Bonas.
Oliver Bonas was started by Olly Tress who opened his first shop in Fulham in 1993. His parents lived in Hong Kong and Olly would visit them and bring things back for his lucky lucky mates. This gifting was obviously very popular and he thought “there’s something in this” so started making a bit of money to get him through his Anthropology degree. A couple of years after he left uni he opened the shop, which was repainted by his mates and featured a second hand till Olly bought for £60.
He says they sold “a magpie collection of seemingly random lifestyle ‘things’ including furniture, gifts, jewellery, bags, accessories and homeware” and “that was pretty unusual for a shop at the time, some people were confused by it, others loved it” Of course they did. The name comes from Oliver’s girlfriend at the time, Anna Bonas who let him use her surname and “very kindly hasn’t demanded that I change it.” I think having a shop named after you by your dearly beloved is one of the greatest romantic gestures of our age.
In an interview with London Loves Business, Olly says he found opening a second shop “much, much harder.” He admits he didn’t have many business skills and his “execution skills were very poor and it just meant it was very stressful… I should think the business grew much less efficiently than it could have done.” I always assume anyone with a phenomenally successful business knew exactly what they were doing all along, so I think it’s inspiring to know Olly learnt as he went along.
Now Oliver Bonas have 60 stores throughout the country selling clothes, homeware and quirky gifts like Cat Bingo, just the sort of thing The Museum of Sarah loves. What’s interesting is whereas they used to just sell things from other designers, they now have a whole in house design team. One of whom drew my portrait last week at their Christmas press day.
At that press day I fell upon their gifty bits and realised I was wearing a dress that matched the whole range perfectly. They also had a drinks trolley, sushi and afternoon tea. I could have happily stayed there for the rest of the day.
These designs are based around a speed sketching session done by the design team, drawing portraits of the everyone in the company. The designs were simplified, dreamy colours were added and they created this heavenly range of glasses, makeup bags, phone covers and my favourite, trinket dishes. It’s the first time I can say honestly be thrilled to get a laundry bag for Christmas.
I also love their “Confident” enamel pins, which have messages like “looking good” and “fairest of them all” instead of the usual “sorry not sorry” they seem to be selling everywhere else. The 2018 diary come workbook is to die for and emblazoned on the cover is the Oliver Bonas motto “Work Hard, Play Hard & Be Kind” which I think says it all.