Monthly Archives: March 2011

BIFW 2011: Surprises at Asava

Two diffusion labels in a row at BIFW tonight. Asava showed ASV, a second line quite unlike its older sister, making the latter look like a step-sibling. By the time the fifth outfit appeared—a short, see-through, yellow plastic (yes, the stuff of shower curtains) cape worn over white short-sleeved shirt and bright blue hot pants—I knew something was out of step. By Asava standard, this was edgy!

I have no idea why Asava did not show the main line since in attendance were the label’s hi-so customers, but as the show went on, it was apparent that something different was sprouting after a new direction took root with the main line at last October’s BIFW show, when designer/socialite Polpat Asavaprapha had the benefit of two new design assistants.

This evening, I saw some technical aspects to the clothes I had not seen before. A shift with contrast yoke and pintucks running diagonally from the bust to the front? A nibbed-in-the-waist dress with assymetric neckline and bodice of folds? A round-neck blouse with carefully positioned darts to give the top its shoulder-fitting form? How Asava were they? You would have thought you sat at the wrong show!

Although ASV, at first, looked like another story, the pieces collectively do not encourage you to think that he was attempting to rewrite the playbook. Rather, he was just going by other books, those you find at Basheer’s. These are trend-correct clothes. They reflect the mood of the season, the runways elsewhere. Colourful? Check. Casual? Check. Short? Check!

Of course, many of the pieces still reflect the Asava aesthetic: one-shoulder dresses, draped numbers, and belted coaties (and his love for satiny fabrics), all for an imagined high style in the high life. Mr Asavaprapha is an old soul, and his love for old-fashioned glamour is not unlike Oscar de la Renta’s. And with such hands, it would be quite difficult, misguided even, to try to follow the footsteps of New York modernes such as Alexander Wang, Gurung Prabal, and compatriot Thakoon Panichgul.

Mr Asavaprapha has always tried to remind us of his connection to New York City, where he had once worked, with a fondness for naming his collections after the Big Apple, such as last year’s inexplicable The Manhattan Collage. ASV, titled And It’s All Good, interestingly (and unconvincingly), was inspired by Italian photographer/graphic designer Paolo Grassi, but it can’t escape the brand’s NYC leanings. The reference is not literal, of course, and only fragmentary at best, but one does not have to be so direct to have an effect.

A sculptor does not make a masterpiece by casting it from a mold of a human figure. Compeling sculptures do come from both hand and heart.

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BIFW 2011: Business As Usual At Greyhound

Why do Thai brands constantly offer different lines? Because they can. It’s the mango growers’ school of product development. You have the orchard, you grow the fruit. And the more varieties you put out in the marketplace, the more of the market you will capture. How else should we explain Greyhound’s Project 1.1? Already with spin-offs, Playhound and Hound and Friends, Greyhound’s addition, in collaboration with the Mall Group and first shown at BIFW last October, will improve the brand’s visibility. But does it offer anything new? Is this mango any sweeter or more fragrant?

Well, if you are a true Greyhound fan (not foodie!), maybe you don’t need anything terribly different. Greyhound, post-1980s, when it was at its peak, is the sum of Brit cool, Italian savvy, and Japanese quirk. From a design perspective, they’ve always been able to strike a balance, just as they do at their eponymous cafe, between tasteful and the unexpected, all bundled as a quietly elegant package. Therefore, they do not appear as mass as the other Eighties-born brand such as Jaspal.

Project 1.1 does not deviate from the formula that founder and designer Bhanu Inkawat has conceived. Considered a pioneer in the Thai fashion industry, Mr Inkawat has given Greyhound such a particular look that it can be considered one of the few local brands with some semblance of a brand DNA. It is from this genetic code that Project 1.1 draws its form and shape.

Even if one day it may become 1.2 or 2.1, this Project is for now just a clone. Greyhound’s usual slim silhouette, muted colours, and boyishness were all there. It was minimalism without taking away too much. The entire collection seemed to be build on some key pieces: the narrow-collared shirt, the softly-tailored suit, and the ankle-grazing pants. And as such, it bordered on the repetitive. A couple of cardigans and hooded jackets did not provide variety.

Like many Thai designers, Project 1.1’s design team relied on styling tricks to lift the blandness of the clothes. These came in the form of accessories for the face. One was a pair of sunglasses that looked like goggles used in inter-galactic missions to distant stars where the sunlight is unusually harsh. The other, a face mask of sort, was composed from the contents of a geometry set. I could not see its real function, but the protractor flanked by two set squares and held together by some unidentifiable hardware to hold the contraption to the head was, admittedly, a shot at creativity.

As I sat watching the show, somewhat distracted by the footsteps of the models breaking up the panels of different coloured sands on the catwalk, I wondered if Project 1.1 is a reaction to the new men’s wear brands that are saturating the market, such as Painkiller and CMG’s 4X4 Man, all sharing comparable aesthetics . If so, Greyhound could take comfort in the fact that they were there first. Mangoes, as we know, are not created equal.

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BIFW 2011: Floral Issue

A garden’s bounty has always been a source of inspiration for designers, especially when it is springtime. I am thinking of McQueen’s Sarabande spring/summer 2007 show, where real flowers were used to festoon dresses, some revealing the crinolines beneath.

In the case of Issue’s Flower Poem, however, the designs cannot be directly traced to blooms as we know them. Sure, there were floral prints and flowers, but there were no petal sleeves or tulip skirts. There weren’t even rosettes! That is perhaps why flowers had to be worn as head gear and on top of the clothes the way you would decorate pavilions of a garden wedding. But when you take away the flowers, do you still have poetry?

Designer Bhubawit Kritpholnara clearly has a predilection for the theatrical, often bordering on the kitschy. Given the theme, it was, however, surprising he did not bring the garden indoors. Before the show began, the catwalk looked oddly rustic. It was lined with woven straw mats, giving the impression of a rural home somewhere upcountry.

When the models eventually appeared, I could see where the flowers went. They were festooned on braided hair, entwined over shoulders, or gathered at the waist. What happens when you try to delineate Carmen Miranda, but end up channeling Eliza Doolittle with too much to drink?

I have nothing against the use of nature’s beauties as bodily adornment. It does, however, bother me when flowers are garlanded and employed without considering the true creative value they could give. A bridal bouquet, for example, is never conceived independent of the bridal gown. I doubt anyone was expecting ikebana, but whoever created the floral works for Issue was no Sakul Intakul.

In the end, it was really fashion versus styling. And the latter won. The floral pieces (sunflowers as large as faces!), while no art themselves, so often overwhelmed the clothes that you could easily fail to notice how banal the garments were. Neither hippie nor Liberty nor Laura Ashley, the garden party frocks, baby-doll dresses, and house coats were, quite simply, unspectacular. It was more so minus a pastoral context, which if existent, could have meant something, considering the theme Flower Poem. By the end of the show, I tried not to see the kinship between Issue and Pratunam.

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BIFW 2011: AB-Solutely Normal At AB-Normal

Normal, like much of other declarations used in fashion, is subjective. What is normal to me may not be normal to you. In adding the prefix ‘AB’ (full caps, no less!) to the name Normal, designer Taweesak Samanmit was, perhaps, suggesting non-conformance to the usual or the average. In doing so, he could straddle between the two normals: yours and mine.

But that gray area was not visited in his debut collection for Bangkok International Fashion Week, which opened this evening at Siam Paragon. It’s not immoderate to want to be wowed by the opening show of BIFW. A good opener can be arousing just as an appreciative audience can be stimulating. But a terrific start was not to be when AB-Normal sent the models down the runway.

A discernible theme was the T-shirt, and almost everything was built around it, so much so that the one suit-jacket that appeared was fittingly slouchy, or perhaps it was just ill-fitted. A tee is one of those garments that does not require re-inventing. Therefore, Mr Samanmit did not try. In deviating from the standard, as suggested by his brand-name, he applied colour-blocking to the crew-neck tops, mixing patterns and fabrics too. The treatments could have been somewhat alluring if only Dries Van Noten hadn’t applied them first.

But it was not always this way at AB-Normal. In the beginning, it was a charming little 2-shop enterprise (men’s and women’s) on the ground floor of Siam Cineplex in Siam Square. This was way before the building was burnt down last year during the red shirt protest that had paralysed that part of Rama I Road. When it first opened, some ten years ago, AB-Normal stood out from the rest of the shops: its tiny wardrobe-sized space, accessed through a somewhat rickety door, looked like something out of a corner of Hogsmeade, one of those wizard villages Harry Potter often found himself in. Once you stepped inside, the clothes came straight up to you, and it felt like waking into the closet of a very discerning person, one who had possibly spent some time in the English countryside. AB-Normal’s designs had that classic-with-a-twist sensibility that would suit Agatha Christie’s characters if they were young and their murder-mysteries were set in the 21st Century.

But that is no more. When the brand started expanding, now with a flagship in Siam Center, that charming quirkiness has faded away. These days, AB-Normal looks like the other brands in the building it occupies. Could it be something catalystic in the air of the complex? The more local brands gather there, the more uniform they appear to be. If abnormality can also be considered the rejection of the imitative, then AB-Normal is in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing.

At the show, a recurrent question kept interrupting my viewing, “Who are AB-Normal’s customers?” So casual were the clothes that you wonder if the brand’s followers wear anything dressier. They were separates that clearly target those who shop at Siam Center, those whose work is also play, and those whose main reason for a new outfit is a night out in Soi Thonglor.

Another thing that bugged me was the backdrop of the catwalk. It was just a draped curtain in black. Unmoved by the repetitive clothes, I tried figuring out what was projected on two sides of the hung fabric. The text caught between the swaying folds slowly yielded the line, “Forest for Rest”.

I finally found the abnormal.

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Tracking Time Like A Tank

Jean Charles de Castelbajac no doubt loves toys. He has made clothes out of teddy bears and conceived watches as wearable Lego bricks that tell time. The latter, the ‘Pop Hours’, (marketed under the name JCDC) was a collaboration with Hong Kong-based brand o.d.m., and appeared at about the same time Lego was extending its brand to the grown-up accessory market. Pop Hours is a fun watch that is not shy of colours that, as the name suggests, pop. Its Lego brick-like bracelet holds on to a face in concentric rectangles with colours that share the same palette as those in the studio of Toy Story.

JCDC’s lattest watch also coincides with a trend: the love of military watches. But it’s not one that a serious infantry man will take to the trenches. You may, however, wish to wear it while manouvering a remote-controlled tank somewhere in Lumpini Park. The ‘Time Track’, also produced by o.d.m., is a plastic timepiece with slightly more heft than a classic Swatch. But for the PSP tribe, weight is secondary to the fun such a wristwatch brings. The X that marks the face may make reading the time a little hard, but the four handles on the round guard is a neat little detail. It lends the watch an almost octagonal shape. That is the kind of cleverness not even the smartest military man can think of.

JCDC Time Track is available at Loft, Siam Discovery, for 8,250 baht

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Let’s Rate Kate Too!

Kate Moss is one of those women not easy to forget. When she became an unlikely fashion star in the Nineties, she stood out like a stain on satin against fellow Brit Naomi Cambell and a gaggle of other girls who were so commanding that “super” had to be added as a prefix to their job description. I remember I was not particularly impressed with her girlish body and newly post-pubescent face. The fact that she was often styled to look like a “waif”, in her case, like a street urchin made good, diminished her appeal to me.

But girls do like her. Scores of them. In not conforming to the body type of the models of Nineties, Kate Moss forged a new fashion aesthetic that spoke to the young who cannot attain physical perfection. Breast and hips—the lack of them—were no longer part of the beauty equation. Over her slim frame, she wore clothes with a distinctive edge. She showed that a woman need not be designer-dependent to be stylish. However, her influence has never really reached Thailand the way it has elsewhere, mostly in Europe and parts of the US. Here, we’re led to believe that she wields considerable influence as a fashion icon through her association with Pete Doherty, her cocaine use, and her eponymous line with Topshop. But I am inclined to believe that her colourful personal life, appearing with almost frantic regularity in Thai OK, has more reach than those limp, vintage-y dresses she is inclined to wear.

The re-release of Kate Moss by Mario Testino, now in paperback, will continue to augment the model’s supposed influence on modern style. This book was originally published last year in limited quantities and retailing for a prohibitive £900! The current affordable version will allow fans to view what’s been described as “the unseen Kate.”

Not all of the images are fashion shots, but if you thought you could see anything that could link her to illicit stimulants, or a racy lifestyle, you will be disappointed. This book is, afterall, put together by Mario Testino, the most vanilla of photographers. It’s a friend-for-a-friend thing, mutual admiration through photos; sometimes posed, sometimes candid, not all deserves to be printed.  What, for example, does a picture of a topless Kate making omelet bring to her art, or his art, or their friendship?

The original version of the book maybe collectible, but the paperback is clearly for fans, those who love their denim cutoff shorts as much on Kate Moss as on themselves.

Photos: Kate Moss by Mario Testino · Publisher: Taschen

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Let’s Rate Kate

As if one Kate isn’t enough, the Brits are pushing another unto the world stage. Kate Middleton may not be a princess yet, but she is watched with so much intensity that it seems the global fashion industry would collapse if she did not wear a particular dress. Hemlines were once used to predict stock  market action. These days, Ms Middleton’s dress could be seen as the harbinger of a nation’s, and indeed, the world’s collective happiness.

Marrying a prince isn’t enough. Her conjugal felicity, as Jane Austen would have called it, appears to be dependent on the bridal gown, so much so that almost everyone wants to know ahead what (or who) she will wear, competely removing any surprise that would lend some awe to the wedding procession on the actual day. Brides in so many ceremonies are to be revealed, no less a princess-bride. That explains why the groom often appears out there, up front first. Surprise from a bride’s choice of a dress—well or badly picked—adds to the value of the  nuptials, together with the bouquet, and even the shoes. So it is to be expected that the royal wedding planners are keeping very quiet about the dress. And even if the rumours were true about Sarah Burton’s role in all this, it is expected that the house of Alexander McQueen remains as silent as a piece of still duchess satin.

I am not quite sure what pleasure watching Ms Middleton’s sensible style brings. She is no fashion icon, not yet anyway. Why wear Burberry and look like you’re donning Benetton? I am inclined to agree with Matthew Williamson, who was quoted in the The Telegraph: “Kate isn’t a fashion bunny. I don’t know why everyone in fashion is waiting to see what she wears. I’m, like, thinking: get over it.”

She dresses smartly, but she’s not necessarily smart about dresses. Well, not before, not in 2002. Surely no woman of considerable style would consider wearing that “dress that snared a prince”? Anyone in fashion will tell you that a dress that can turn-on a man is rarely one that can be tagged fashion. That strapless slip, purportedly “designed” as a skirt, went under the hammer in London ealier today. An unknown bidder paid £78,000 for it!

Now, lest you think I am a prude, I have nothing against sexy garments. If the role you regulate to clothes is purely for the purpose of seduction, it’s really your perogative. But must sexy be so devoid of elegance, so bereft of seductive flair? The dress that the soon-to-be-princess wore, designed by a Charlotte Todd, has little to offer to the imagination, but much to say about the wearer.

For many women, fashion is less about design than what she designates herself to be. So few women really care about how well clothes are made, only how well the clothes will make them look. The look is also far removed from the looks found in look books that inform many fashion enthusiasts. Thai women are especially sold on looks: those that give the impression that they have hi-so pedigree. When I look around me, from Pinklao to Sukhumvit, the tendrils-as-hair, the short filmsy slips, and the tacky high-heels seem to come from a coterie of women, those whose  success depends on high returns with low fabric usage in dress. Yes, to be more pointed, hookers. The interesting thing is, even hookers don’t dress like hookers anymore.

Kate Middleton is not a fashion star who will lead a generation of women to fashion nirvana. She is not the individualist who can give a fresh take to the royal style she is expected to adopt. She is not a protagonist who can use clothes to give the rest of us moments of satisfaction.

She’s not the other Kate.

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