There are some places people expect to be irrefutably unstylish. Just look at our inbox the day we revealed the best of Bangkok. And we soon realised our own attitude of sartorial supremacy, when the sales lad in one of those fancy Italian bag stores asked if we were from Nepal Ex-key-yoos-me? (Never mind the borderline-albino factor). Because that’s how people dress in Nepal, he said – bleached out ripped skinny jeans, striped oversized shirt and black patent ankle boots they’d of course need for kicking the goats if they stopped before base camp.
This ignorance, while inexcusable, makes it all the more more exciting to discover talent from exotic locales. Take confessed ‘maximalist’ Manish Arora (pictured top and above). Spring/summer’s detachable lion heads make shoulder pads look so middle-of-the-road, and you call that a tulip dress? Most embarrassing when London Fashion Week’s standout collection is by a codger from New Delhi, innit?
A similar thing could be said of the Thais, whose fashion-forward detail and lack of inhibition outshone European counterparts at Pret-A-Porter Paris last month. (Pictured above is Klar.)
A friend rang during the week just to check, hope you don’t think I’m imposing I just worry, you know that we didn’t really endorse those transparent dresses from 388 Wonderboutique. I mean you may as well photocopy your nipples onto a transparency and turn on the overhead projector. Wait until she gets wind of the evolution of sheer. For ss10, barely-there mesh morphs into what is known in the industry as air. From stanley knife-style circles at Austria’s Butterfly Costumes to fibres that look to have been nibbled by silverfish all winter at Manish Arora and John Rocha, nothing is the new something. Disclaimer: Fashion Platz does not advocate the exposure of private bodily bits. All trends should be attempted with caution. If in doubt, consult your personal stylist.
Never forget the lady who stormed up to the Mercedes Fashion Week tent at Bebelplatz and insisted that the organisers had made a mistake with the signage. ‘Um, has nobody else noticed it’s 2009, not 2010?’ she huffed. Out in fashion land even ss10 feels passe. Bring on 2025. But reality is on the lady’s side, and that of the Thai labels who just showed ss10 in Paris. If only we could get our hands on label 388 Wonderboutique (above). Still, having just seen a ton of Thais Sretsis and Kloset in Aussie trash-fash mag Shop Til You Drop (October), we reckon the Wonders might be down under by 010.
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.