• Ryan Bonilla
  • One of Bonilla's custom-built motorcycles
  • Bonilla's studded Louis Vuitton bag
  • A watch laser-etched by Bonilla
  • Bonilla collaborated with Elle editor Kate Lanphear on this Burberry trench for the 160th anniversary of Lane Crawford -- he added laser-etched designs to the metal buttons
  • Another watch from Bonilla
Dec 28, 2011

Ryan Bonilla

In 2006, Ryan Bonilla left corporate life to embrace his two passions: art and building. Bonilla cofounded Bellum Concepts, a boutique company that creates customized luxury items such as watches, motorcycles and cars. Bonilla uses laser etching to take these everyday items—many of which are vintage—and turn them into masterpieces. We talked to Bonilla about his creations, his inspirations and how it feels to take a laser to Rolex or Ferrari.

How did you get started?

When I first began working, I was doing graphic design for Tommy Hilfiger. My business partner and I decided to join forces and start a company that really spoke to our personal aesthetic and allowed us to modernize old world objects, to take vintage stuff and tweak it out. We started Bellum Concepts in 2006. We build motorcycles and cars and also use laser-etching to add designs to items like timepieces and guns.

What is your goal with each piece you create?

We want every item to be as personalized and sentimental as possible. They have to have soul; that’s what sets us apart. We create objects that can be passed down from generation to generation. In fact, the designs look better over time. I like that they’ll get a little beat up.

What is your process?

With motorcycles and cars, we build the machines from the ground up. Then we do the etching—some of it is done by hand, while some of it is computerized. For watches, the laser-etching is all done by hand.

What’s your design inspiration?

I’ve been inspired by flowers a lot…the flow of them and how they grow into something beautiful. I like feminizing motorcycles with flowers—the shape of a bike is very feminine by nature. Many of our motorcycles are inspired by the women in our lives. We take friends’ and girlfriends’ personalities and imbue them into what we create.

Who is your ideal client?

Art collectors, creative types and young, well-to-do males (late 20s to early 40s) who have a feel for old-school stuff. I’m very into vintage stuff like old guns, so I like designing for likeminded people.

What’s your favorite item to work on?

I’m most passionate about building motorcycles. I love working with my hands and building things—as a kid, I was always into Legos. The artistic part of the creations speaks to my fine art roots; the designs come from pure emotion. I need to stimulate both sides of my creative process.

Tell me about the motorcycles you build?

Our bikes are smaller and lighter than a lot of bikes. We believe that less is more. Our bikes aren’t for macho, Harley-Davidson guys. We build them more for the feeling of riding a highly-tuned precision machine.

Do you get nervous when putting a laser to a Ferrari or a Rolex?

In the beginning, I definitely did, but I got used to it. At least I know if I screw up, the parts are usually replaceable.

If you were to design one accessory for a hair dresser what would it be?

I’d love to make shears with really cool blades made from an exotic metal like blackened gold. I’d create shears that are very etched out with Victorian or Art Nouveau motifs—designs that would appeal to the beauty world because that type of artwork is very flowy and reminiscent of the way hair moves. They’d be really customized…I’d have to meet the person they’re for to get a sense of their personality and world view.

You added studs to a Louis Vuitton bag. What made you decide to do that?

I like taking things that aren’t supposed to be studded and totally fucking them up by adding hardware. Run-of-the-mill bags and jackets are good for this—it makes them stand out. It also gives them a sense of irony. Fashion can get so serious, so it’s cool to poke fun at it sometimes. People need to laugh more.

How do you market your work?

We first went with word-of-mouth and as more people heard about us, we hired a PR company. We’ve been featured in Elle Italia, GQ and Playboy.

Do you work with any large companies? Any desire to do a big partnership?

We like to keep the business small and boutique-y. The customization is where we get our charm. Our items all have a very artisan-like feel; everything is handmade. But are open into doing collaborations with cool people and brands ...

What’s next?

We’re working on a furniture line.
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