When he was on “Dancing with the Stars,” 14 months removed from temporary paralysis, Bonner Bolton would drive down Sunset Boulevard to get to dance class.
He’d look up at the outdoor ads promoting the latest Hollywood fashion and films.
A year and a half later, a giant billboard on that famous West Hollywood stars none other than the Texas cowboy, who’s soaring in his new modeling career.
Bolton is the face of Tom Ford’s new cologne Ombre Leather, a scent inspired by the American west.
“It’s weird and unexpected, obviously,” Bolton said. “I didn’t grow up to be a model and I definitely didn’t expect to be walking around in my underwear for a fragrance commercial cut to a Jay Z song. That’s a wild thing for me and definitely quite a transition from the dirt to the perfume aisle.”
Beyond the U.S., the Ombre Leather campaign is running in all major markets across Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and the Asia Pacific.
“It is a huge honor to work for Mr. Ford – it’s like the gold buckle of the modeling world,” Bolton said.
Many models may work an entire career and never land a campaign as prestigious as one with Tom Ford, according to Ivan Bart, head of IMG Models.
“It’s super humbling to come from a broken neck two years ago to be considered for work like this that other models spend a whole career going after,” Bolton said. “It inspires me to continue to work on myself and my health. It relights the fire inside of me to continue to get better and stronger.”
Back in Los Angeles, Bolton tried to soak up as much as he could on the set watching the iconic Ford directing the campaign.
He’s now taking acting classes, and hopes that nabbing the stylish Ford campaign while being managed by Endeavor, which is connected to the biggest TV and film projects, may lead to a role on the small or big screen.
Develop some decent acting chops when your star is rising, and anything can happen if you have desire, heart and nerve along with the right representation, Bolton reasons.
His people at IMG Models know a bit about timing. Just as the Tom Ford campaign was rolling out, Bolton had a spread break in Vogue with fellow IMG super model Gigi Hadid.
“This month has been the pinnacle of my fashion career,” he said. “Gigi is an amazing person – so cool and down to earth to work with. It was so much fun to shoot with her. She is totally not what most people may assume about someone of her social status getting all that attention.”
Gigi and her sister Bella enjoy horseback riding, which created an immediate common bond for the cowboy and one of the world’s most famous personalities.
“We shared the camaraderie of horse lovers, and she made me feel so welcome and comfortable,” he said. “We had lots of laughs about the difference between the country life and the high fashion life. Gigi felt at ease shooting with someone fresh off the ranch.”
Even as he’s become a fixture at glittery industry shindigs like NY Fashion Week – this year hanging with UFC fighter and IMG Model Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson – Bolton still has a boot in PBR.
He’s made a financial investment developing an innovative mobile technology application that he hopes will help bring new fans to the sport.
While he hasn’t ridden since January 2016, Bolton went to Cheyenne this summer partly to stay on the inside of the sport as he develops his smartphone-based project, and partly because that’s what a cowboy does in July.
There are a lot of stalwart competitors and old friends at the world’s largest outdoor rodeo. At the top of the list of guys he wanted to see was Chase Outlaw.
Anyone who’s spent more than five minutes with Chase Outlaw understands that: when given the chance to hang out with Chase Outlaw, hang out with Chase Outlaw
Bonner was happy to pull Chase’s rope as he mounted War Cloud at the Touring Pro Division event at Cheyenne Frontier Days.
Chase, old school wearing a cowboy hat, nodded, the gate flew open, and War Cloud detonated from the chute like an exploding cannon.
Outlaw hung on for the first jump but by the second, he was jerked down out of sync with a bull clearly not messing around. War Cloud rocketed up as Chase was heading down, smacking him in the face.
When Outlaw plowed into the dirt, Bolton knew it was very bad.
“The bull came across one side of his face so hard, it busted up the whole other side,” he said.
Without realizing it, as he told the story, Bolton brushed a hand against the deep scar in the back of his neck. Those who don’t know his story wouldn’t have noticed.
Maybe he was flashing back to Chicago, busted up at the 2016 season opener, pile-driving into the dirt at an angle even a D-student in geometry would recognize as perpendicular, looking out at dusty immobile fingers, which might as well have been twigs on a branch.
After seeing Outlaw rocked, socked and busted up like few athletes ever are, Bolton stayed overnight at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center. Doctors used 68 screws to insert 11 plates into the Arkansas cowboy’s face during the 12-hour operation.
Outlaw has made an incredible comeback. He'll be competing this weekend in Milwaukee, while Bolton remains connected to PBR with his new technology project while enjoying what the modeling world is bringing him.
He already has one gold medal there. But who doesn’t want to be a multi-time champion?
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