Recently graduated and ready to obliterate the patriarchal codes of tailored menswear, designer J Bontha is a visionary force to be reckoned with. Raised in Texas, Bontha moved to London in 2013 where he studied Bespoke Tailoring at the London College of Fashion. The timing was perfect; his years of study coincided with a renaissance in contemporary London menswear, where younger and more avant-garde voices elevated the city as the go-to men’s fashion week. This environment allowed Bontha to evolve his high-glam and performative idiosyncrasies in both his designs and broader self-expression.
Bontha’s graduate collection, titled L’Adoration, was inspired by the Great Masculine Renunciation, a movement following the French Revolution where men renounced the vanity and frivolity associated with the monarchy. This reinvented the characterisation of masculinity to rational and industrious behaviours rather than decorative embellishments. “These ‘relinquishing’ endeavors began with good intention”, Bontha explains, “but fast-forward two hundred years and this philosophy has led to the festering of a toxic masculinity – the modern tailored suit, which initially sought to equalize humanity, simply lends anonymity to patriarchy”. Self-proclaimed “tailoring terrorist” Bontha subverts this through a powerful, kinky cut with playful detailing, making grandiosity in bespoke menswear great again. The accompanying collection film, exclusive to King Kong, takes us into his evocative world highlighting the distinct personality of the garments on various characters (himself included) as well as his craftsmanship.
Now back in the States, Bontha is quickly recharging in Houston, his hometown, before moving to New York at the end of the year. King Kong spoke with Bontha about his practice, what he’s learnt from London and about returning for good in a now-tumultuous America.
Tell me about the collection and the research that went into it?
My work is all about helping men feel sexy and good about themselves so they do good by the world. This collection – entitled “L’Adoration” – involved deep exploration into the history of the codpiece. For research I got my hands on the Museum of London’s archival codpieces from the early Renaissance, studied their construction and reinterpreted their form using modern tailoring techniques. The result is historically informed, couture quality fetish wear.
Some menswear designers are completely divorced from the aesthetics they propose while others embed their personal style into their work and dress for themselves. Would you say you fit into the latter?
I lead my clientele by example. It was always sad for me to see McQueen taking a bow in jeans and a T shirt, as if to underline the impossibility of his own propositions. I fully embody and believe in the masculine sensual glamour of my clothing. I’m like, hey boys if I can be this sexy so can you.
You’re currently working on an online store, tell me about that?
Because the pieces I make are bespoke, they tend to be costly. I’m trying to establish a more accessible outlet… the underwear, the jewellry, the accessories, the lifestyle. At the moment the focus will be on the jewellry and lingerie, so I can slowly build up some momentum. I actually just got my first couture commission!
You studied at LCF during a pretty energetic period in London fashion. How has London influenced your understanding of menswear?
Dichotomy defined my time in London. During the day I studied bespoke tailoring, a centuries old patriarchal English heritage craft with a strict sense of discipline and insistence on quality. During the night, I donned stripper heels and lingerie to ride the wave of glittery nihilism which was washing through the queer club scene. As a result, my work is a synthesis of irreverent male sexual display and traditional masculine codes of elegance. London taught me how to be both cunty and classy.
You’re originally from Texas and about to move to New York. How do you feel about returning to America as a designer during such a politically-charged period?
I’m appalled and excited. Change comes through culture, not legislation. It’s my mission as an artist to eradicate the toxic masculinity which led us to our current political turmoil by inviting men to embrace my vision of elegant male sensuality. It’s time to fight the good fight.
words by Sasha Geyer