Peek inside someone’s bag and you can find out a lot about that person—but rarely does the bag itself tell a story. That’s where Quanda Ong hopes to change things. The founder and designer of Gnome & Bow reimagines literary characters and tales for its collections of leather bags, wallets and other accessories. Or, as the brand puts it, creating the “world’s first series of storytelling bags and wallets”.

With that novel idea, Gnome & Bow has established itself since 2013 as one of the city’s foremost accessories brands, whose finely finished products will not look out of place alongside those from luxury labels. From masculine duffel bags and folios to sleek backpacks for the ladies, Gnome & Bow’s catalogue oozes sophisticated yet affordable luxury. And with Singapore already conquered, Ong has his sights set on the rest of the world.

Ong

As the 31-year-old describes, “Stories are the fabric of memory that make life entertaining and unexpected. They speak a language that is both universal and immortal, transcending the barriers of age and culture.”

The brand’s design philosophy begins with its name: “gnome” represents elements from fantasy tales while “bow” symbolises class and stature. You’ll find the marriage of the two in Gnome & Bow’s collections.

Booked out

The Hare & The Flying Tortoise Book 1: The Hare & The Flying Tortoise

The first collection, entitled Book 1: The Hare & The Flying Tortoise, riffs off the classic fable in its design. The highlight piece, the Cypress backpack (SGD 425), features two parallel zippers that resemble racetracks. “This depicts the rat race in the modern world, with the tortoise being the underdog and its wings representing hard work and innovation,” explains Ong. 

Pine Card wallet

Then there’s the stylish Pine Card wallet (SGD 165), which comes in oxblood and onyx black. Unlike regular billfolds which tend to be chunky, this is a sleek leather accessory with five card slots and hand-stitched binding—complete with shepherd’s check fabric lining for a touch of flair.

Kensington messenger Kensington messenger

Gnome & Bow’s second collection, Book II: Jekyll’s Hyde, stems from Ong’s fascination with the split personality of the titular character of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde. Even if you haven’t read the Robert Louis Stevenson classic, the bags in the line will clue you in: they are all reversible. Items such as the Strand briefcase (SGD 385) and Kensington messenger (SGD 375) are serious on one side, but turn them inside out and they transform into fun bags with quirky prints. 

Form and function

Milton Crossbody Clutch

They’re not all about good looks, either. Most of Gnome & Bow’s bags score well on functionality: The Milton Crossbody Clutch (SGD 245) uses forest green nylon on one side, and olive cotton canvas on the other, with three slots and two larger sections to fit gadgets such as an iPad. 

Just like the timeless stories that inspire his collection, Ong designs his goods to last through the seasons. So classic shapes and sensible colours such as khaki, navy blue and black abound. “I’d carry every product in the line myself,” he says. 

When it comes to personal style, Ong champions Paul Smith and Ted Baker accessories as much as local brands that bring something new to the table. Pew Pew Patches is one such brand: it embroiders quirky iron-on patches in the shape of unicorns, doughnuts and the local shaved ice dessert, ice kachang.

“Having a collection of badges and patches is a great way to spruce up your look or bag,” he advises. “It’s lots of fun and allows you to change things up to suit your mood.”

By design

Gnome & Bow is just one of the new clutch of Singaporean brands that are producing design-savvy goods, from fashion to accessories to homeware. Ong believes this is because craftspeople and consumers alike are becoming increasingly sophisticated.

“With the new tech-savvy generation having easy access to information, they’re more equipped with the tools to help contribute to the local design scene,” Ong observes. 

Ong is quick to highlight the annual Singapore Design Week (SDW) in March as a platform for budding local designers to showcase their ideas. The SDW is a celebration of all things design-related, with local and international designers, architects, and students congregating for exhibitions, talks, and workshops. While the activities span across the island, many of them are held in the National Design Centre. “Singaporeans are certainly relishing the design scene’s vibrancy and accessibility,” he points out.

Housed in the National Design Centre is, among others, lifestyle retailer Kapok which carries a well-curated selection of products such as scented candles, apparel and accessories—including, of course, Gnome & Bow products, each with a unique story to tell.

TANGS at Tang Plaza. 310 Orchard Road, Singapore 238864. +65 6737 5500.
Mon 10.30am-9.30pm; Tue-Sat 10.30am-10pm; Sun 11am-8.30pm.

kapok at NDC. National Design Centre. 111 Middle Road #01-05, Singapore 238855. +65 6339 7987.  
Daily 11am-9pm.

Naiise. Orchard Gateway. 277 Orchard Road #02-02/24, Singapore 238858. +65 6252 7701.
Daily 11am-10pm.

For a full list of stockists, visit here.