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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