What A Laugh!

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They declared: “We are the clothing brand by 2 girls… June & Kade designed to make all the girls happy & shiny”. Wonky sentence construction aside, it is the tendency to go askew in the way they do things that, perhaps, is the appeal of the women behind Hahaha : the happy girls label/project.

Conceived by Sawitri “June” Rochanapruk and Jirada “Loukkade” Yohara, two spirited individuals whose day (and oftentimes night)  job is hosting events, this mirthful collaboration seems born of their need to have something to wear and show, if their Facebook posts are any indication. Like most Bangkok lasses, these two care less about photographic value than showing the world they’ve been there and done that, but unlike most, what they wear is also what they sell. Their digital diary, an ode to girly pursuits, shows pieces from their current collections and those that are to come. Cute they maybe to their fans (presently, they have close to 30,000 “likes”), but these designs are Burda for the Twitter tribe.

We’ve always known that anyone in Bangkok can be a fashion designer. Actresses, singers, models and those who need to express themselves through dress can become a fashion designer or collaborate with a label to become one. But how seriously can we consider you to be a professional when you state: “Mixing the top and skirt from june collection n loved this! So we are gonna make it in July! Stay tuned! { top from Kade skirt from june} (sic)”, referring to the photo (top left). Yes, we can see them beaming with sororal pride, but is this really the route from concept to consumer? It appears that both girls pick from each other’s existing wardrobe, select a fabric, have a seamstress sew them up and dispatch to whoever places the orders.

In another era, they call this cottage industry.

Photo: Hahaha : the happy girls

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Just Site-Seeing

The homepage of thaifashiondesigner.com

The ‘about’ page of thaifashiondesigner.com

Thai designers, in so many ways, are luckier than their counterparts in the region. When it comes to support, they can tick all the following three: government, industry, and consumer. Some of Thailand’s neighbours, such as Singapore, are not as fortunate; they lack not only government initiative and incentive, they have weak industry backbone, and are able to retail to only a small consumer base. Thai fashion, on the other hand, is a veritable ecosystem of hardware and software, of manufacturers, retailers and shoppers.

It is, therefore, commendable that members of the fashion design community are united in their vision to see Thai designers taken seriously, as witnessed in the six-months-old website thaifashiondesigner.com, a moniker freighted with expectations. It is a promising endeavour, I thought, until I read the homepage and clicked the tabs of the seven attendant pages.

For starters, it is regrettable that a website targeted at those less familiar with the local design scene, presumably foreigners, communicates in a brand of English that is, at best, juvenile. The real puzzler is its name: inexplicable in its choice of the singular “designer” rather than the plural form. At first, I thought this is a site of one individual until I realised this was initiated by The Bangkok Fashion Society (BFS), an organisation spearheaded by designer brands such as Stretsis, Kloset, and Greyhound to push seven objectives that include one: “to encourage, provide support, in order to help lift the standard of design and quality of Thai fashion product to meet with the world’s standard”.

The purpose of thaifashiondesigner.com is not entirely dissimilar if it is, first, comprehensible: “to collectivize information about Thai fashion industry, the movement of various Thai fashion brands and designers, from the Couture Houses to brands the cater to the Custom Made segment using high quality materials, and the multtude (sic) of Designer Brands that conform to industry standards”.

Whether it is about “standard” or “standards”, it is not overloading the basket to have thaifashiondesigner.com come under the auspices of BFS. But this site is supported by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), so it would not be unreasonable to assume that it is intended as a showcase of Thai fashion design for those from overseas heading our way to shop, but are unfamiliar with the market and scene. If so, why does it not drum up any excitement for those ready to wield their credit cards?

Fashion enterprises in Bangkok are ever so keen to be represented online, but few consider the importance of content. Despite its good intentions, thaifashiondesigner.com is let down by nothing substantive. At first look, the monochromatic header of the homepage is mildly promising, but go deeper and you wonder why you’re here at all. Repeated future visits since its publication saw no updates. The last entry for “News & Events” was a “competition for young creative minds” held on 12 November 2012. Designer profiles and descriptions of collections are so varied in tone and language that it is clear they are individual submissions and not edited for consistency. While a webpage such as this could benefit from a more pictorial narrative, the photographs presented were so scant that the tab “Catwalk & Collection” is a misnomer.

Many Thai fashion designers are aware of the need for collective representation to strengthen their cause. However, with this site, I wonder if the old belief is still true: there’s too much rivalry, jealousy, and discord among designers to foster a united front.

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Awards That Are Stylish?

Award ceremonies in Bangkok are often curious events. In the fashion industry, they are, as I see it, mutual admiration opportunities lapped up by the patron and the recipient, both desirous of leaning on the reputation of being stylish.  These awards are not hard to dream up and inexpensive to produce, and  they easily satisfy the pretensions of the giver and the vanity of the taker. Elegance or smartness in dress does not always come into play, popularity and photogenic qualities of the nominees do.

Honouring  stylish people is now regularly occurring, but does giving out any award to those deemed to have style make the the award “stylish”? I mean, when the police gives out medals for bravery to those regular folks who have, say, rescued unsuspecting citizens from violent harm, do they give out “brave” awards?

It was, therefore, utterly amusing to me when I came across the Zen Stylish Awards 2012 last night.  It  was not unreasonable to assume that the department store Zen combined two events of the pre-Red Shirts protest—Zen Stylish Woman Award and Zen Stylish Men Award—into one that honoured both sexes on the same day. A store’s budget constraints may necessitate the conflation of events, but the economy of words in event naming may lead to ambiguity or comedy, neither, perhaps only rarely, the sibling of style!

Maybe Zen did intend to hand out stylish awards. So, did they?  If you were expecting gold-plated medals or crystal bowls, you would have been disappointed. Each recipient received an acrylic-encased card on which the event’s logo was positioned on the top left-hand corner and his or her photo on the right.

To honour the stylish , you must first be an arbiter of style. Don’t you agree?

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Bangkok (Tourism) Blues

I rose and shone, bright and early. I had what to me was the best egg Benedict in Bangkok. As it is often hard to find what can be considered breakfast food in this city, a dish of eggs and bread topped with Hollandaise sauce was instantly comforting and beautifully filling. On a table in front of the cashier, the Bangkok Post Sunday, a paper so thin it  rarely beckons, sat waiting to be picked. I was lured to a headline piece: “Tourist Complaints Already Exceed Last Year’s Total”. Now, my attraction to this was not because I was surprised; I only wanted to ascertain what I already knew.

Even without the figures quoted in the papers, I had suspected as early as 2008 that Krungthep  (in particular) is losing its appeal as a tourist destination. Sure, for many Westerners, this city is still 3rd-world enough to offer the kind of vacation romance that allows you to talk about it after you get home, and it has nothing to do with the shopping you did. How the tuk tuk driver charged you 200 baht to go from Soi Langsuan to MBK, how impassable to human traffic the BTS trains and stations have become, how the famous Thai smile  is quickly disappearing into the widespread urban insolence… these (and more) are as irascible and off-putting as the 1,518 complaints (0f which 681 were to do with theft, committed, interestingly less by vice operators than tourism service providers!) received by the Tourist Police Division between January and May. Yes, the tourists are still coming, as evidenced by the constantly congested Suvarnabhumi Airport (that’s another story altogether!), but do they want to come back?

Increasingly, Bangkok offers very little reasons for a repeat visit. As a friend from Hong Kong told me recently that since his first holiday in Bangkok 20 years ago, the city has nothing new to offer except shopping malls. There are the same attractions with nothing yet-to-be-seen and nothing yet-to-be-enjoyed in them, and, as he asked, “How many times do you want to go to the Grand Palace?”

The Bangkok Post report offers statistics not only on thefts, but also on those cases that saw tourists tricked into buying expensive jewellery in shops as well as complaints against tailors. While these retail hoodlums are not to be tolerated, those offering inferior goods in reputable establishments should not be let off either.

A Chinese friend who visited early this year bought some T- and polo shirts at Paragon Department Store. He tried the two styles on for size, and, liking them, asked for several in different colours, all in the size that fitted him. When he got home, all except one actually fit. The rest were too small. When he piled the garments on top of each other, he saw that they came in varying sizes (and shirt lengths!) although they were all tagged the same size.

If Paragon Department Store brands are allowed to get away with this, what’s there to stop the rest of them outside the Ratchaprasong shopping belt? Are devils quickly overtaking the City of Angels?

I shudder to think so.

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Where Is Whisky?

Yes, it’s Whisky without the ‘e’.

But that’s not what struck me after reading Bangkok Post‘s profile on Wachirapanee Markdee. It is the lack of real insight into the interviewee that stood out. Writer Samila Wenin attempts to have us believe that Whisky stays off the radar despite a high profile job. In his professional description for Portfolios.Net, he lists himself as creative director as well as fashion stylist. Despite work that is hardly hidden from the industry, we’re told that we “don’t see him at fashion outings or press presentation, except for the one or two brands where he takes a liking to the PR officer”. Oh, Ms Wenin, where have you been? Or have you not taken a liking to certain PR officers?

The stylist for Praew and such is no recluse of the Bangkok fashion scene. Khun Whisky’s name is mentioned as often as he is spotted. Even Ms Wenin later admits that “you can’t really say you’re in the fashion circuit if you don’t know Whisky”. But let’s believe her; let’s say her subject is characterised by “regular absences from fashion gatherings”, and that we’re not in the fashion circuit. That would mean Khun Whisky is unexposed, and possibly an enigma to us. If so, why are we no better at knowing this individual after this Interview piece ?

What we got, instead, are mentions—sympathy and admiration—of others: fellow stylist Joy Ananda, designers Platt Srilalittsoi, Taned Boonprasarn, T-ra Chantasawsdi, Jirat Subpisankul, Chai Jeamamornrat, and Chatree Thengha of the misleading label Shaka London. Khun Whisky goes on to describe the pitiable state of these fashion designers’ professional life: “they grew from doing contest collections to commissioned work before setting up their own brands. We’re not born rich and we have been struggling all our lives. Some of us are just kids from provincial towns”. This could also describe much of Bangkok fashion practitioners: makeup artists, hair stylists, and also fashion stylists.

In the end, while we know almost nothing of Whisky, we’re given a picture of working in fashion in this city. Creativity knows no provincial boundaries nor does it only acknowledge economic might. If creativity is to be seeded in Bangkok, the soil welcomes the disadvantaged. And if you persevere, just as Whisky (and his cohorts) did and still do, you too could be “Thai fashion’s conceptual experimentalist”.

Whatever that is, will the real Whisky please stand up?

Photo: Bangkok Post

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The Crooning That Screams

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Kloset is hardly a label that sings softly, yet it’s new shoe line, designed by Bloom Tripwattana, is called Croon. The first glimpse of this all-the-rage monochromatic pair suggests Fred Astaire, although I am more inclined to think of Gene Kelly (who croons!). Don’t let this product shot mislead you into thinking that the shoes are so humbly hued. The debut collection is not shy of colour despite the glitter. Those minus the kiltie look suspiciously like bowling shoes. But given their tri-colour combination, it would be hard to say, “strike”!

Photo: Croon

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The Gentlemen’s Club

Prada’s men line has been featuring actors in the ad campaigns, but they have been young men, posing alone in the shots: Tobey Maguire and, recently, Michael Pitt. The newest for Autumn/Winter 2012/2013 stars Gary Oldman, Jamie Bell (The Adventures of Tintin), Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy) and Willem Dafoe, all together! A group shot such as this could only be made possible after Prada’s IPO in Hong Kong in June last year since we can guess that the men assembled like this won’t come cheap.

There’s something of another era about the above picture. I sense a Jack-the-Ripper vibe. Or Maybe it’s just Gary Oldman looking Holmes-like but murderous. Oh, the blood-red background too!

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