The New Boyy in Town: Jesse Dorsey and Wannasiri Kongman on Settling Their Accessories Brand in Milan

·8 min read

MILAN — A large ceramic sculpture in the shape of a hand popped up earlier this month on Via Bagutta, inviting passersby to explore high-end accessories brand Boyy’s new store.

Nestled in the city’s Golden Triangle luxury shopping district, the location marks a key step in the growth of the brand, which was founded in New York in 2006 by partners Jesse Dorsey and Wannasiri Kongman and is based between Bangkok and Milan.

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After moving the business to Thailand for almost a decade, in 2018 the founders decided to also set roots in the Italian fashion capital, which they used to frequently visit for business purposes, ranging from sourcing materials to attending local trade shows.

“Italy has been very much part of our life and our products since 2006,” said Dorsey, praising Milan for its “architecture and deep history in design.”

“At the beginning, we came twice a year just for the Lineapelle [leather] fair, but then we started to spend some days and the more we stayed, the more we liked it,” echoed Kongman during an interview at the couple’s beautiful Milanese home, just a few steps away from the Boyy store.

Both spaces are a testament to the creative duo’s eye for design and color sensibility, with the former filled with arty pieces contrasting essential furniture and framing an unexpected view on a secret garden, and the latter developed to resemble an art installation rather than a mere commercial spot.

Another element both locations share is the magic touch of Danish artist Thomas Poulsen, better known as FOS: While at the designers’ home his work was revealed in some items such as the mini Mountain vases and the Street Lamp piece cornered in the living room, the talent was behind the whole temporary experimental concept of the store.

Inside the Boyy store in Milan. - Credit: Courtesy of Boyy
Inside the Boyy store in Milan. - Credit: Courtesy of Boyy

Courtesy of Boyy

“I’m obsessed with his designs from the Céline era,” said Kongman, referring to the projects FOS developed for the French brand during Phoebe Philo‘s tenure, including concepts for catwalk sets and decor pieces for its boutiques. “I didn’t know we could get some of the pieces he designed for the stores, but it turned out it’s his right to sell, so we started to collect them,” she added.

To revamp the location of the 667-square-foot Boyy store, which formerly housed an antiquity shop, FOS installed hand-dyed fabrics in faint pink and orange as walls, creating different areas to spotlight different handbag styles. Incidentally, the fabric will be repurposed as limited-edition totes when the installation closes.

Warped mirrors reflecting distorted images dominate a shop window and are added inside, where monolithic sand plinths punctuate the space serving as product displays. Covering the floor, an electric blue carpet printed with objects spilled from Kongman’s own handbag further plays with visitors’ perception.

To mark the opening, which will be celebrated with a cocktail on Wednesday, the brand has also released the Bagutta capsule collection, which includes some of Boyy’s staples rendered in new colors complementing the installation as well as two new sizes of the Bobby Soft and Wonton handbag styles.

Boyy’s Wonton style rendered in the Ultramarine color for the Bagutta capsule collection. - Credit: Courtesy of Boyy
Boyy’s Wonton style rendered in the Ultramarine color for the Bagutta capsule collection. - Credit: Courtesy of Boyy

Courtesy of Boyy

During Milan Fashion Week, Boyy will unveil its spring 2022 collection, which will hinge on the brand’s classics offered in new color tones, too.

“Because of the times and COVID-19, we felt it’s not the time to start coming up with new crazy versions of our bags. So we’re keeping it really simple at the moment,” explained Dorsey, adding that footwear will be highlighted, instead. The couple toyed with shoes in 2015 through a small launch of a single style, before experimenting with other categories, such as sunglasses, silk scarves and hats.

“We’ve launched a new shoe style maybe every year, but starting next year we’re going to push a little bit more aggressively this department,” said Dorsey, revealing that eyewear is also slated for a comeback soon.

The Puffy sling back from the Boyy spring 2022 collection. - Credit: Courtesy of Boyy
The Puffy sling back from the Boyy spring 2022 collection. - Credit: Courtesy of Boyy

Courtesy of Boyy

Meanwhile, handbags remain at the core of the brand’s offering thanks to their understated, polished aesthetics conveyed through everyday, sleek designs that retail between roughly 500 euros and 1,800 euros. Bestselling styles include the Bobby 23 bag, part of the Buckle collection introduced in 2015, which became Boyy’s most recognizable line.

“We made a big shift that year about what we wanted to achieve. Every six months we had to create entirely new collections and we just got sick of that energy and we were like: ‘Let’s just slow down and make a collection that is timeless’,” said Dorsey, underscoring that the Buckle series remained the brand’s only line for three years, simply being updated with new colors, materials and fantasies each season.

Other key styles now include the Wonton design, part of the Take Away collection launched in 2019, and the Soft series introduced last year to offer alternatives in supple leather and oversized proportions.

The Bobby Pisa bag included in the Boyy spring 2022 collection. - Credit: Courtesy of Boyy
The Bobby Pisa bag included in the Boyy spring 2022 collection. - Credit: Courtesy of Boyy

Courtesy of Boyy

The company’s overall strategy is to optimize its wholesale presence, prioritizing the expansion in new geographies rather than multiplying vendors in markets where it is already present, as well as favoring the growth of its direct retail network in the future.

For instance, in Italy the brand narrowed down the number of its wholesalers from 40 to 15. International stockists include La Samaritaine, Selfridges, Bergdorf Goodman, Harvey Nichols, Holt Renfrew, Antonia, Modes as well as Net-a-porter, LuisaViaRoma and Ssense, among others.

Boyy has also four stores in Bangkok — including one flanked by a branded café at the Gaysorn Village shopping mall — in addition to the Milanese unit and the shop-in-shop in Rinascente launched last year. In 2015, the company first put his foot in Europe with a flagship in Copenhagen, which eventually shut down, but still helped the couple to increase the brand awareness in the continent.

While Dorsey said not to be in a rush for other direct openings yet, a series of pop-up projects is in the pipeline. These include a long-term presence at the Globus department store in Zurich, where the Boyy booth is expected to remain for at least six months, and a pop-up at Lane Crawford in Hong Kong. A relocation of one of the brand’s Bangkok units to a bigger space is also on the agenda.

Europe is one of the biggest markets for the brand, but Dorsey acknowledged that this is mainly due to tourists, especially those visiting from Asia, the Middle East and Russia, while the U.S. accounts for a big part of the online sales on the label’s e-commerce. Overall, he said that sales are back to pre-pandemic levels and expects to close the year reporting about $22 million in revenues.

The designers describe their career trajectory as a “kind of a Cinderella story.”

Boyy’s founders Jesse Dorsey and Wannasiri Kongman. - Credit: Courtesy of Boyy
Boyy’s founders Jesse Dorsey and Wannasiri Kongman. - Credit: Courtesy of Boyy

Courtesy of Boyy

“I was a DJ and bartender while she [Kongman] was a waiter at a restaurant,” recalled Dorsey. “As a musician, I did a film score for an independent movie, making $10,000. So I put all that money in starting this brand.”

Encouraged by Kongman’s passion for handbags, the couple kicked off the fashion venture developing a single style that got the attention of the press as well as of Sarah Andelman of Colette, which became the brand’s first international stockist. This kick-started the success of the label in an era marked by the explosion of the “It” bag popularity.

Now, to further propel the business, the firm is increasing its investments in marketing. For the first time, it hasn’t developed an in-house campaign but partnered with Jim Goldberg for the fall 2021 ads, which pay tribute to the American photographer’s seminal work “Rich and Poor” documenting and interviewing individuals of varying circumstances in San Francisco between 1977 and 1985.

Similarly, with the Boyy campaign Goldberg offers a glimpse into the inner realms of a curated cast of New York creatives, including Collier Schorr, Korakrit Arunanondchai, Efron Danzig, Hawa Sahko, Franklin Ayzenberg, Jack Pierson and Kunle Martins. Overlaid with a handwritten text offering the talents’ personal reflections on gender and identity, the images made their debuts in magazines this month and are slated to pop up in the streets of Milan during fashion week.

An image of the Boyy fall 2021 advertising campaign. - Credit: Courtesy of Boyy
An image of the Boyy fall 2021 advertising campaign. - Credit: Courtesy of Boyy

Courtesy of Boyy

The brand has been self-financed from the start and Dorsey rejected the idea of teaming up with investors in the immediate future.

“It’s not that attractive to us. We’re pretty happy the way it is. Who knows, anything can happen, but for now we’re just enjoying the journey and we feel so fortunate,” he said. “If we were to get in that world, we would lose something, because then we would have to start reporting to boards.”

“And we’re not very good at that,” concluded Kongman with a laugh.

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