Fashion/Beauty  •  From the Archives

From the Archives: Thai brands

Aniporn Chalermburanawong, Miss Universe Thailand 2015, explores the Shanghai Mansion through the lens of Punsiri Siriwetchapun and with the styling touch of M.L. Chatnapa Sutatsanee to represent a different vision of Thai fashion.

August 01, 2017
There was a time when Thailand did not have the flagships of international luxury designer brands in glossy departments stores nor a legion of Thai ready-to-wear brands. But there was an early clan of Thai designers who made names for themselves in their ateliers and would eventually go on to open their shops. Of a different era, they had a different vision than that of the current generation, a vision that has evolved into the core of ready-to-wear here in Thailand, from Fly Now and Theatre to Muse by Good Mixer to Tango and Soda.

Many years ago, before Maynart Nantakwang opened Soda in 1978, many a fashionable Bangkok lady needed to go to their dressmakers before attending a party. In fact, to have your own personal dressmaker to custom make your dresses was the epitome of design and luxury. Along came Soda and everything changed. Now, Soda has come to represent a bohemian alternative to strict bodycon dressing.

The Soda woman and man are nomadic: he and she are as comfortable in a Moroccan souk or the markets of Jaipur as they are in Paris. He is fluent in French, can stroll the streets of Montmartre at ease, and is a frequent visitor to World’s End. Later came the diffusion line, Baking Soda and a café, which capture the very essence of what Soda is, what Soda means: love. Love Café opened at Emquartier in 2016, after 38 years, a testament to a brand that exists out of love and is inspired by freedom—the free-spirited bohemian.

Now, fashion in Thailand is dictated by two seasons: hot and rainy. There is a split second in December when it gets cold and could almost qualify as fall/winter, but producing clothes in accordance with the international fashion calendar has not really been a thing. But there have been exceptions. Of the now-established generation, Fly Now was one such exception.

Somchai Songwattana is known for his dramatic vision of the world: romantic, gothic and fiercely feminine, yet minimal and poetic. He has a way with feathers that makes his feathered gowns and jackets the staple pieces of many a beautiful wardrobe. This was the dream as a brand; though the Fly Now that currently exists in every department store might have elements of this dream, what Somchai has created is a fashion empire that has funded not just a fashion business but also a passion project called Chang Chui, an impressive art collection, and patronage of some of the most important contemporary Thai artists. The fashion business features outlets all over the country, fuelled by immensely successful ready-to-wear and OEM business. The vision of Fly Now that we now see? A strong, beautiful heroine in clothes that become her armor: a corset, jacquard, and structure. Perhaps the name maintains the vision of getting lost in one’s dreams and imagination and that is what the brand is about: to Fly Now, away, and escape.

The other brand whose aesthetic is exactly as the name suggests is Theatre. If the world is a stage, what we wear are costumes and there is always drama, always an occasion, and always a lasting impact. That is good theatre, and over the last three decades that is what Theatre has delivered: volume and large structure, clothes that you want to wear when you get dressed up. Sirichai “Jom” Daharanont creates a fantasy world in Theatre-traditional Thai shapes and volumes that are reinterpreted to create dramatic signature pieces that are voluminous, maximal, and exactly what it promises to be: high drama, meant to last. A brand that started as an atelier, the Theatre troupe are expert drapers and still make dresses to order.

Muse by the Good Mixer, one will remember from early days walking around Siam Center and how a visit to MUSE meant being taken to a fantasy world of ruffled dresses, and prints. Chaichon Savantrat still delivers this fantasy of gingham and prints. The jungle queen of accessories, embroidery, beads and leather is Tango. Exactly as the name suggests, it’s a tropical tango of bright colors and beads. Tango was also the go-to for sandals of suede that would lace up your calves or bags with beads and poms poms. Tango was and is a Bohemian dream of an accessories brand and remains so today.

So at the Shanghai Mansion, we dream, dream of the days when fashion was about escape, an escape to a place where heroines can get lost in a fantasy of clothes that tell a story.