Steps from the ensuite-size booth sandwiched between two deserted aisles we place bets – knockoff Comme des Garcons. Does Reality Studio sell in Thailand? The pale latte wrappy-drapey thing, gotta be Margiela. Why didn’t anybody tell us about this place, instead of sending us off to the putrid polyester-filled Chatuchak?
Within seconds we’ve relieved te racks of half their stock. “Who designs this stuff?” we ask a figure slumped, head down in the corner, struggling not to drop a forehead-high pile of clothes.
“Yes,” says the tiny Thai shop keeper, rising from his wooden seat to pull a metre-wide curtain along an overhead rail.
The shopman-slash-designer, who has more than a touch of Akira Isogawa about him – deep creases from years of embarrassed smiles, round glasses about two seasons too early, and head-to-toe black cotton – looks at the racks carrying avant-garde designs with perfect drapes, folds and tucks in pure cotton and silk, and shrugs.
“Just small business.”
Indeed, the God Bless You stand is Peerapun Tranerattapit’s only retail point of sale, and it’s no stroll in Lumphini park. Survival demands his presence at a tiny booth in an airless shed from 6 to 12 seven nights a week, to catch the fashion-forward wheat in the fake Tiffany bracelet-hunting chaff. Even then, each sale is a battle between he and haggle-happy westerners who refuse to pay prices that top out at AUD36 for an exquisitely-made cotton/silk dress that would have the Met Gala crowd choking on their Beluga. A Garcons-esque pure cotton jersey cocoon top is AUD16.
While the Thai Government is backing a number of programs to put local fashion on the world map, and link-heavy websites such as Thaicatwalk.com and Thailandfashion.net showcase a few savvy labels with Bunka pedigrees and baht to spare, the official channels neglect many designers whose creativity more than matches their agency-represented counterparts.
Peerapun’s heartly laugh at the suggestion of a website reflects the prevailing attitude to what is essential for any modern marketing, and begins to explain the failure of many fashion designers to rise to the level of world-famous Thai labels Sretsis, Senada, Fly Now and Kloset. Even the card we collect from a young man with perfect English at t-shirts and accessories label Green Dragon House leads to a defunct MySpace account.
When Gi launches her new collection next month, it will not be in a tide of blinding flashes in Siam Paragon, but heralded with a sign in her 2m x 3m ‘1606 Shop’ booth at the end of an out-of-the-way aisle abutting a darkened alley.
“And I will get a website!” the petite 20-something designer exclaims, reaching for a pen to write our email address in her Tesco notebook.
Wholesale is where it’s at for designers without a ‘name’. The sheer volume of marketplaces in Bangkok – most suburbs have their own retail tent cities measuring acres – ensures steady demand for product. A suite of labels including Brio, Mama Don’t Cry and Mama Say Zeed turns up in stands everywhere from Sukhumvit Road to Silom. But this promiscuity presents its own problems. While it can generate a decent income, it also guarantees that a designer will never join the likes of Sretsis on the world stage. The intellectual property is valueless.
Gi is genuinely shocked that we return, as we promised, to buy a pure cotton shirt with perfectly-executed pleating and ’winged’ sleeves seen in the European ss10 collections. And that we agree to pay 500 baht (AUD17.50), when wholesale customers would take 20 pieces at the price. We hope she puts it towards web hosting, and that one day we’ll be the proud owners of ‘vintage 1606’. (Bought it in Bangkok. Really cool Thai designer.)
Other ’labels’ worth seeking out in Thailand’s unofficial fashion landscape
Every Perfect – oversized jersey with interesting button details (sensing a trend?)
Green Dragon House – unique t-shirt designs & accessories
Now Or Never – hip asymmetric jewellery & accessories, and t-shirts, all limited edition
Four Fiftyseven Co – hints at Balmain, margiela, and other designers du jour
Mama Say Zeed – oversized jersey & pale denim pieces, at suan lum bazaar & soi 4, siam square
Mama Don’t Cry – a frill here, a shoulder detail there, all on-trend
December No 5 – more oversized, Japanese-influenced styles
Art Self (www.art-self.com) – hand-painted & died tanks, tank dresses & tees in pure cotton
Exhibit – ‘upmarket’ brand with well-made sack dresses, drapy things & shirts, in a proper branded tore on Soi 4, Siam Square
At thirty-five degrees, with humidity nudging 100 per cent, there was only one thing to do today – hit the malls. Bangkok’s shopping centres put the ‘chi’ in chi-chi, packed with Prada, Balenciaga, and the usual luxury suspects. But they also house some Thai labels and concept stores that more than match their Euro counterparts. Curtained rooms of couture and day spas occupy discreet corners of dimly-lit emporiums on Level 2 of uber-flash Gaysorn Plaza. We happily spent an hour in Myth Bangkok Hipster Store, where we discovered Thai jewellery label TriMode.
As the Buddhist monks pondered, if a label hung in a Siam Square boutique, but didn’t show up on google, did it really exist? We’ve zuzzed the old zen contemplation to match the material orgy that confronted us today in Bangkok’s answer to Meatpacking or Mitte.
Unfortunately few of the labels we scribbled on our mission to uncover Thailand’s foremost fashion players have made it on to the world wide web, despite being showcased in countless windows lining the sois (streets) du jour. But a few questions to our tenuous local connections revealed a fascinating fashion industry that is pony-walking at full pace towards the world fashion stage. In fact, our newfound faves (pictured above and below) are presenting at Paris’ Pret A Porter Paris early next month via the Fashion Identity agency. (That’s a plug.)
The city has its own frequent large-scale trade shows and designer showcases – many of which we missed by a day! But we hope to make up for it tomorrow during our visit to the ‘garment district’. More to come soon.