Quanda Ong: Jekyll’s Hyde

Quanda Ong is no stranger to Shiok, having been interviewed previously in March by the lovely Arista. We bring this wonderful visionary in again to talk about his newly launched series, Book II: Jekyll’s Hyde. For the uninitiated, the series is based on the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, a story of a man with a split personality — the good side is represented by Dr. Jekyll, while the bad side is represented by Mr. Hyde. “Jekyll’s Hyde” is a terribly clever pun, suggesting two things: 1) Hyde belongs to Jekyll and therefore, is a part of him, and 2) “Hyde” is a homonym for “hide”, reinforcing the hidden nature of Hyde. I attended the launch party for the new series and I was blown away by the amount of detail and thought that was put into creating a physical manifestation of Quanda’s inspiration for the series. Set in the cosy upper rooms of Oxwell & Co. at Ann Siang Hill, the warm wooden decor complete with dark leather upholstery, shelves of thick dusty volumes and large paintings with ornate frames made me feel like I was a London-er caught up in obscene lavishness of the mid-1800s. The food and drinks were also in line with the theme where the team had coordinated with Oxwell & Co. to come up with a menu that comprised of unique dishes such as “stone” fish (deep fried fish with charcoal batter) and chocolate covered jellies that looked like pebbles. We were also treated to custom crafted drinks, courtesy of Hendrick’s Gin — the “Jekyll” (cucumber martini) and the “Hyde” (Unusual Negroni).

Stone fish and chocolate pebbles.

With the brilliant minds behind Gnome and Bow.

A couple of features in the room caught my eye: a variation of Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream, a large mounted taxidermic bull head and a chandelier-esque central lighting piece composed of white antlers. The painting variation now seemed to have a reason for screaming face in the foreground — a man in a suit with the head of a bull is superimposed on the background of the painting, making it seem as though the figure was screaming because of the monstrosity. The repeated but subtle use of the bull motif in the room’s decoration reminded me of the “Hyde” side of everyone as it is a common symbol for the dark side (not a Star Wars reference unfortunately). This “dark side” is posited by Gnome and Bow to be universally present in everyone but it lurks in the dusty quiet corners of one’s personality because societal rules and norms have called for the concealment of such indecorous notions. Should you conceal it? Or should you embrace every part of your personality? Let’s see what Quanda has to say about that.

What is the significance behind the name “Gnome and Bow”?

When I first started, I wanted to create bags that were not only classic looking, but had that extra spark that told a story by itself — a story that would have meaning to the user. I wanted the name to represent that concept so I thought of adjectives that described it. The first two adjectives that came to mind were “quirky” and “dandy” at that time. But then it becomes “Quirk and Dandy” which sounds very strange.

I think every good brand names evokes images in one’s mind; it has to be visual. The first thing I thought of when I thought of the word “quirky” is “gnome” and when I thought of the word “dandy”, I think of the bow tie. The gnome is a fantasy character that not many people are familiar which gives it a slightly mysterious and illusory aura. It isn’t a common image in Asia as well. The bow tie is something that is timeless, even till today where it is still a common accessory in formal and informal dressing. So that is how Gnome and Bow came about!

Gnome and Bow? Geddit?

Every series of bags you release is termed as a “book”. Can you tell me more about your new book, Book II: Jekyll’s Hyde?

In the first collection, we took on the Hare and the Flying Tortoise, which is a twist on Aseop’s fable, the Hare and the Tortoise, because we gave the tortoise wings. But for our second collection, we wanted something that was darker and more sophisticated and that’s why we chose the story of Dr. Jekyll and Hyde. We felt that it was a very interesting story because it could be modernised into relevance in today’s society where everyone has two sides — the wild and crazy side and the calm rational side. We feel that everyone has two contrasting sides that people sometimes don’t know which to take. There is a much deeper meaning to the story when we interpret it that way and we wanted to showcase this through our bags. We wanted a bag that could keep up with these two sides and so the idea of the reversible bag came into play. Of course, we wanted it to be very classy and in line with our design ethos.

As with every Gnome and Bow design, we wanted to translate the essence of the story into tangible bags using clever little details. In the first collection, we used the zippers with leather tabs to represent the race contestants (i.e. the Hare and the Flying Tortoise) who race across the bag as though it is their race track. It’s very interactive and at the same time, very subtle so that the overall aesthetic is kept very classy. Following the same train of thought, our second collection has reversible bags with functionality, with meaning from the story. Each side of the bag connects to the aforementioned different sides. On one side, we have a very elegant minimalistic kind of look for your professional career. From Monday to Friday, you are a typical banker or accountant, but when Friday comes, it’s time to let loose. So there is a message on the bottom of the bag from Hyde that says “Let me out” and that’s when you reverse the bag to match this different side of you — the bag is an extension of your personality. The other side is brightly coloured with prints of gambling paraphernalia, tattoos and so on. Vice versa, when it comes to Monday morning, there’s a message from Jekyll at the bottom saying, “That’s enough”. You flip the bag back and resume your responsibilities on Monday. That’s the subtle touch that makes the bag more than what meets the eye.

Two sides of the Strand Briefcase in Midnight Blue

A lot of Singaporeans seem to be unaware of what a gnome is. What is the sort of reception that your brand typically receives from the local market?

Initially they are a little surprised as to what the brand is like. Most people expect a bag brand to just produce bags — quality, materials, things like that. But they don’t expect that there is a story that runs through each series of bags and so I think they are surprised that they are getting something that goes beyond a mere bag.

It’s very true that many Singaporeans don’t know what a gnome is! It’s definitely a more Euro-centric reference. The worst pronunciation I’ve ever heard was gee-no-meh and bau. (Ashley: That sounds like a high-end luxury brand. Sounds completely legitimate.) I can understand the “bau” part (i.e. taking a bow) because it’s not wrong, but the gnome part sounds really funny.

That being said, a lot of locals do know about our brand. Just last weekend, we were at an F1 party at Ritz Carlton and a lot of people came up to me to say they know about Gnome and Bow but haven’t bought anything yet. I’m really glad that after two years of work, we are definitely getting out there.

If you could recommend one piece from the Jekyll and Hyde collection, which one would it be?

Wow, that’s a really hard one! I can’t decide! If I really had to choose, I think it would be the Clifford backpack. It’s very sleek and even boardroom appropriate. It’s easy to include as a staple in most people’s wardrobe. It doesn’t look like a schoolbag at all and it’s very versatile in its styling options.

A close second would be the Milton crossbody clutch because the way it reverses is different from the other models. It’s very easy to use and understand where it’s coming from, and it can be carried in many different ways.

Gnome and Bow has a special offer for Shiok readers! Take 10% off regular priced items when you use the code “GNBSHIOK” on their site www.gnomenbow.com. The code is valid till 4 October 2015.

All image credits to Gnome and Bow.

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