Category Archives: Thai Fashion Designers

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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Bold Folds

Recently, on three occasions not far apart, three individuals wondered audibly if I had heard of Nutthida Palasak. My answer was not in the affirmative. Still, they would go on to ask what I thought of her work. When I was not able to comment, they continued to extol the creativity of her designs, leaving me to feel as if I had not kept abreast with those who were being buzzed as “Thai fashion’s hot new names to watch”.

While I did not consider mentions by these three to be something then trending, I was intrigued enough to want to see what the acclaim was all about. Ms Palasak, designing under her surname, is not yet a retail phenomenon, so asking some store buyers led nowhere. At Siam Center, our oldest outpost for serious Thai fashion, the search was futile. It seemed that the only place to view the clothes was at the brand’s website: napalasak.com.

Ms Palasak, who recently showed in Blueprint in Singapore, is definitely a newcomer. While she has participated in numerous fashion events before and after graduating with an MA in Fashion Promotion at Birmingham Institute of Art and Design (her BA in Fashion Design was attained at Srinakarinwirod University), her first full collection has a grad-show quality to it: an avant-garde zeal forged to charm examiners rather than consumers. You can’t mistake the origami-derived folds, so dramatically fashioned that it is not unreasonable to assume they are painstaking work. So after all the effort, do they look beautiful? Do the designs have a point of view?

Clothes in photographs are difficult to assess since they could be the result of a stylist’s intervention. On that note, it is annoying to see actual origami pieces (and other paperworks) used as props and accessories to underscore a design concept that is not at all vague. You see, the ‘tell’ must come with the ‘show’, perhaps indicating, lest we cannot guess, that Ms Palasak may have started her designs by first folding paper.

Applying the folds to the clothes results in pieces that are rather two-dimensional. On the model, they look flat, as if the fabrics were folded before there were sandwiched to be seamed into shapes that are largely concave in silhouette. Folding cloth to create a permanent crease yields hard lines on the garment, and in this case, forms sharp angles that seem to be at odds with the natural curves of the body. I suspect this is deliberate. To be sure, these are technically challenging garments, and Ms Palasak appears to have achieved some drafting feat. She does not keep things simple; she certainly does not keep them effortless.

Since the origami treatment appears, from what I have seen, only in the front of the garment, I fear the clothes may turn out to be front-heavy. I am curious to know what is at the back, what elements are used as a counterpoint to the obverse. Unless I get to the see the actual clothes, I may never know.

Photo: Palasak

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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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