He is a known name in the local fashion industry with his suits making appearances in fashion weeks. The man has also dressed celebrities, corporate bigwigs and other well-known figures.

Yet Bon Zainal is not done with pushing his agenda of bringing recognition to Malaysian menswear. He thinks that the talent found here is very much on par with other countries.

“There’s a big market internationally when it comes to menswear, and I see Malaysians filling this spot in the future,” states the 52-year-old designer in an interview with Star2.

“I’ve been going to Paris for the past three or four years now. I communicated with the people there about my suits, and surprisingly, the response has been really, really good.”

Bon Zainal

Bon Zainal believes in the potential of the local menswear brands. Photo: The Star/Raja Faisal Hishan

According to Bon, he is now focusing very much on the business aspect of his fashion label. This involves representing and selling Malaysia as a brand on the international fashion stage.

“On my travels, I talk about using materials such as songket and batik in designs. You’d be ­surprised. The people there all love it. That infusion of a Malaysian feel is something unique for them.”

He adds that Westerners are willing to pay a few thousand pounds or euros for a Malaysian-made suit. For him, it says a lot about the quality of which designers here are able to meet.

“I’m planning on showcasing Malaysian menswear brands alongside next year’s Milan Fashion Week. Not just mine, but other local brands too. It’d be history in the making, as it has never been achieved before,” he reveals.

Keeping It Dandy

On whether Malaysian men are embracing fashion, Bon says the proof is in the styles seen on the streets or social media. He also adds that his customers are increasingly enthusiastic about dressing up.

“I can fairly say though, we have a lot of catching up to do with the men seen in menswear capitals like Milan and Tokyo. But then again, we’re rapidly closing the gap.”

Bon points out that men can be worse compared to women when it comes to fussing about their looks. He has seen guys who are enthusiastic about dressing well, “really going all out”.

“Suits, in the past, were usually worn in black, grey or blue. But now, you see brighter colours. Richer materials, as well. It represents a bold and vibrant attitude – the need to stand out and be noticed.”

And the love for menswear is not just contained within the creative industry. As evident with the gents pictured with Bon on this page (whom he dubs as his “style soldiers”), they represent different backgrounds.

They comprise Jehan Miskin, Douglas Lim, Raj Aria, Hiresh Haridas (also known as Resh), Sha’arin Razali Wong, Raymond Mark Westwood, Datuk David Gurupatham, Raja Noor Izzudin, Abdul Rahman Mohamed, Al-Hardy Ruddin and P. Prem Anand Pillai.

“These men, my friends, they inspire me. They also inspire my designs. But more than that, we have an easy camaraderie among ourselves – born out of our love for fashion,” Bon states.

“Lawyers, actors, businessmen, corporate guys, doctors, film directors. Men of all professions appreciate good style. I would say all guys inherently love fashion.”

Bon Zainal

Front, from left: Abdul Rahman Mohamed, Al-Hardy Ruddin, P. Prem Anand Pillai, Raj Aria and Bon Zainal. Back, from left: Datuk David Gurupatham, Raymond Mark Westwood, Resh, Raja Noor Izzudin, Sha’arin Razali Wong, Jehan Miskin and Douglas Lim. Photo: The Star/Azman Ghani

Setting The Rules

When asked about menswear trends, Bon says that they are getting younger. Even the models are different. He thinks they represent a wider range of men, from masculine to dandy.

He explains: “What you need to be aware of is that fashion constantly evolves and changes. What I always say though is that you can bend the rules but don’t break the rules.”

Bon’s advice is to know what to wear, how to wear, when to wear and with whom. If heading to an entertainment event, then maybe a slim-cut blue suit with white sneakers will work.

But a corporate gig requires you to go back to the most classic of looks. In this context, the “proper” dressing would require black shoes and belt, as well as the appropriate socks.

“Streetwear is now a big thing in menswear. But personally, it is not for me. I’ve tried sneakers with suits, but I still always go back to my loafers if I want a more casual look with suits.”

And Bon’s message for Malaysian men? He stresses that everyone needs to support and buy local brands. After all, Malaysian fashion is something that we can indeed be proud of.