BonnerBell finds niche from post-recession blues

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 345 views 

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of five features about local designers participating in the opening night of runway shows for NWA Fashion Week. Thursday (March 8) is dedicated to home-grown design houses, such as BonnerBell.

FAYETTEVILLE — Wayne Bell, the more vocal half of the BonnerBell apparel design team, had been sewing less than a year when he decided he would put together a runway show of his reasonably priced separates and altered vintage pieces for Northwest Arkansas Fashion Week.

The fruits of his labor — and those of partner Daniel Bonner — can be seen Thursday (March 8), a night during fashion week set aside just for local designers.

As for learning how to sew, Bell said he “just picked it up,” and augmented his natural talent with a short round of classes at a local sewing school. He had previously worked in corporate sales for a large hotel chain, but his job was eliminated due to downsizing.

In a tiny office and adjacent dressing room on the second floor of 31 E. Center St. (directly above Petra Cafe), Bell creates women’s separates and dresses from scratch and compliments them with a line of “vintage adaptations.”

“We take vintage clothing that needs to be shortened, or needs to have the sleeves removed … it needs some love and attention to get it more current,” said Bell, 30.

Bonner contributes with his unique men’s neckties and bowties, which helped them get their goods into the marketplace, at The Mustache Goods & Wears on the Fayetteville Square.

Their items sold well, so Mustache added some of Bell’s handmade women’s apparel. Dresses sell in the $55 range and separates retail for around $30. Mayapple Salon & Boutique at 546 W. Center St. also carries BonnerBell clothing.

Molly Clark, owner of the Grey Dog vintage boutique, carries Bell’s vintage creations at her apparel-packed Airstream trailer on College Avenue.

It was during a party at Grey Dog that Bell met Jade Terminella, owner of the Lola boutique and co-founder of NWA Fashion Week. That November night, she bought a long 1970s rust-colored metallic dress that Terminella said she wanted to wear to fashion week.

“If the woman who is running fashion week wants to wear ‘me’ to fashion week … then maybe there’s something to this,” Bell said.

He decided to make his hobby a full-time job, secured the office downtown, got a business license and went to work the first of February fitting models, 35 in all, for BonnerBell’s Thursday night show.

“Ideally, some of the boutiques have had months to prepare, we’ve had two months to prepare,” Bell says.

With nearly three dozen outfits to show, Bell figures each girl will take about 45 seconds to get down and back the 60-foot runway, for a total running time of 13 minutes for his show. The looks will include daytime wear, cocktail, evening — even a wedding dress.

“My goals here are to get the [first-time customer] to say ‘Where can I buy that?’ and to get a store to say ‘We want to carry you,’” Bell said.

Editor's note: The City Wire will post similar features on local designers leading up to Thursday night's runway show showcasing area talent.