After four decades in the business, designer Somchai Kawtong of Kai can do a lot less and still show us he is a master craftsman. But he did not. His 40th anniversary show was clearly a crowd-pleaser and it was not difficult to see why. He took the audience in the packed show-tent into his fantasy world, with clothes that were the embodiment of glamour, all worn by women—past and present models, celebrities, movie stars—who knew exactly how to wear and walk in them. These were not clothes for every or any day. They were for special occasions when photographers abound and onlookers gawk. You were charmed by the dresses because you seldom see clothes like these any more.
To be sure, these days so very few women dress the way Pi Kai outfitted his models for the show. They were really dolled up—impeccable make-up, soigné hair (which also explained the very late start of the show), and they clearly had somewhere to go. In the finale, the outfits looked like they were assembled for a bridal entourage that will head for the Dusit Thani hotel.
To see the merits in these clothes, you need to imagine yourself to be a society lady who sits at home or lunches at some hi-so haunt to dream about the next fantastic dress she would wear to the next fantastic event. There could not be anything less than a confection of perfection.
Pi Kai looked to old Hollywood for his show-stopping clothes. Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady appeared, so did Lauren Bacall in How to Marry a Millionaire and other yesteryear movie icons. He was partial to the sweetheart neckline, the nipped-in waist, the layered petticoat, the flared skirt, and the corded-lace dress, many recalling the costumes of Charles LeMaire and Edith Head.
He channeled old Thai movies as well. To salute Petchara Chaowarat, who’s temporarily out of retirement, Pi Kai screened black and white shots of the actress’s face onto skirts and dresses. The monochromatic outfits, while not quite like Gianni Versace’s colourful Marilyn Monroe tribute, were, given the mood of the moment, nostalgic. The feeling would last only if you did not subsequently go to Silom Road and saw similar treatment applied on a T-shirt with Twiggy’s face on it.
Pi Kai is old school, so is a designer such as Oscar de la Renta. There is nothing inherently wrong with that until the brand is asscoiated with the geriatric population of the society it serves. An art-director friend commented, upon learning that I was going to attend the Kai show, “they’re clothes for old ladies”. And, perhaps, therein lies the problem: Kai did not attempt to “design young”.
Lightness of touch escaped the clothes, so did a youthful silhouette. The overwrought styles, while no doubt expertly executed, seemed to consume the wearer: the Disney-princess syndrome. In the end, it was the sumptuousness that worked against Kai. The clothes entailed great expense, from choice fabrics to the finest workmanship, but while we know that Thai women like their dresseses embellished, for the designer, where and when should he stop? After forty years, it may be hard for Pi Kai to put a brake to it.