Thai fashion: The brands, the styles and where to find it all
In fashion-crazy Bangkok, the last two weeks have seen back-to-back catwalk events featuring the top Thai fashion brands.
First up was the inaugural Bangkok International Couture Fashion Week, swiftly followed by the lower key 1st Fashion Field Trip. Crowning it all in stylish glory was the annual Elle Fashion Week 2011, which ended Sunday.
It all reflects a growing interest in fabulous design and the potency of homegrown Thai brands.
"Bangkok is a city that carries one naturally towards creativity," says Dr. Vincenzo Giubba, president of the the Italy-based Accademia Italiana, of which Bangkok features the sole accredited design institute in Southeast Asia.
"There is a natural tendency of the people there towards taste, both for that which concerns fashion and clothing, as well as that which concerns furnishings and design."
Global celebrities have taken notice, with big names like Kim Kardashian, Heidi Klum, Michelle Obama, Nicole Kidman and Gwyneth Paltrow all stamping their fashion seal of approval on the East, wearing clothes by Thai-born Nuj Novakhett, Thakoon Panichgul and Koi Suwannagate.
For visitors looking to pick up their own piece of Bangkok style, here's a list of some of the top players in Thai fashion and where to find their work.
A. For a day at the mall
Family affair Sretsis adds a bit of snazz to sugar and spice and everything nice.
Nostalgic romance interpreted in shades of pastel have made these designing sisters popular with Hollywood and regional celebrities alike, including Asia-based model and actress Ase Wang.
"They have a unique, modern yet retro feel,” says Wang, who has also designed a clothing line for Chaps. For “feminine women with an edge.”
Staying on the sweet theme but with a cut of sophistication is Kloset and its more upmarket extenuation Kloset Red Carpet.
Their clothes are adorned with a smattering of traditional embroidery, lace nets and ribbon tape, an ode to designer Mollika Ruangkritya's childhood passion for making dolls.
The casual yet fashionable threads have found a fan in 2005 Miss Universe Natalie Glebova, who now resides in Thailand.
"Each Kloset piece is a standout on its own and doesn't need much accessorizing," she tells CNNGo.
Saluting the diversity of Oriental cultures is Issue, with designer Roj Singhakul incorporating tribal details and exotic colors into his collections.
Roj was invited to showcase his hippie chic creations during the sixth cycle of Tyra Bank's "America's Next Top Model" TV show, and his ethnically ambiguous style also struck a chord with Eurasian beauty Florence Faivre.
"I can express myself through their ornate bohemian styles," says the international model of her long-standing favorite Thai brand, "empowering me to feel a different yet strong sense of identity."
Where to buy
Sretsis: Siam Paragon, Gaysorn Plaza, The Emporium
Issue: Siam Square (soi 3), Siam Paragon, Gaysorn Plaza
Kloset: Siam Center, Siam Paragon, CentralWorld, Central Chidlom, Central Ladprao
B. For ladies who lunch
The designer behind eponymous Disaya has all the right credentials -- a fashion degree from London's Central Saint Martins College (CSM), a stint working with John Galliano and a client list that includes the likes of Rihanna and Jennifer Lopez.
Disaya draws her design inspirations from her adopted hometown in the British capital, with an accessible collection streaked with flirty hints.
An even newer addition to the fashion scene, k and i was launched last year by designer Somchai Kaewthong, who has been in the dress making business since 1969.
The younger extension of his label Kai brings the couture house's signature exquisiteness to the streets, and its black and white lacy tops sit well with a denim pairing to achieve a cowgirl-meets-cinderalla look.
Senada* Theory is the bigger sister of Senada*, with an eclectic mix of monotone and patterned fabrics adorned with embroideries and other intricate details. Sleek urban lines are coupled with feminine touches to create a contemporary vintage look.
Kicking the attitude up a notch is Milin, unmistakable for its delicate fabric and rebelliously sexy cuts that are not for the faint of heart.
Bold colors are matched expertly by designer Milin Yuvacharuskul, who after obtaining her degree at CSM, went on to pursue a Trend Marketing and Color Specialist degree in New York, where she also completed an internship with Jill Stuart.
Where to buy
Disaya: Siam Paragon, CentralWorld, Gaysorn Plaza, Central Chidlom, The Emporium
k and i: Siam Lido, Siam Paragon
Senada* Theory: Gaysorn Plaza
Milin: Siam Paragon, Central Chidlom, Central Ladprao, The Emporium
C. Work night social
Polpat Asavaprapha's Asava brand may have only arrived on the scene three years ago, but the popular designer is no stranger to fashion.
Polpat was a former trainee with Marc Jacobs and Isaac Mizrahi, and earned his stripes with Giorgio Armani and MaxMara.
Asava's outfits are savvy enough for a corporate office, but elegant enough to wear to the post-work cocktail bar.
Vickteerut is another brand that blurs the distinction between work and play. Minimalist lines and conservative use of colors mean his clothes are sophisticated but not stuffy, practical but not plain.
While Asava and Vickteerut's lines are more androgynous, Pisit is more feminine without sacrificing on the urban chic factor.
In addition to bespoke dresses, the former assistant to Kai's Somchai Kaewthong also designs ready to wear collections, letting the fabric he has on hand lead the design of the end product.
Saksit Pisalasupongs and Phisit Jongnaransin of Tube Gallery came together by way of theater directing and Western classical dance respectively, so their dresses were never destined for wallflower anonymity. Movements are magnified in flowing dresses, while fitted cuts are balanced out with colorful patterns and stunning fabric details.
Another fashion brand with a dramatic flair is Theatre, a fashion house led by the soft-spoken Sirichai Daharanont.
His dresses are whimsical in nature with liberal use of colors and ethnic references, and with a background in props -- designing hats, necklaces and other accessories for a couture house -- Theatre's fashion shows are legendary.
Where to buy
Vickteerut: Thonglor (soi 4), Siam Paragon, CentralWorld, Central Chidlom
Asava: Siam Paragon
Tube Gallery: Siam Center, Siam Paragon
Pisit: Times Square (3rd floor)
Theatre: Siam Center, Central Bangna
D. Night at the ball
Thai fashion brand Kai's bridal collection is the stuff of fairytale weddings, complete with lace and ribbons, frills and ruffles.
When Somchai Kaewthong transposes his magic onto evening gowns, the veteran designer's 40-plus years of experience really shines through on dresses cut in flattering forms and embellished with intricate needlework and interesting layering.
Flynow is another Thai fashion brand that has withstood the test of trend-changing time. It’s one of the favorite brands of model Cindy Sirinya Bishop, who proclaims their work to have come from a place of "exquisite mastery and pure genius.”
"The Flynow woman,” the 1996 Miss Thailand neatly sums up, "is über chic and elegant, but with a defiant rock edge.”
One of the country's most sought-after designers is the elusive Nagara Sambandaraksa, couturier to the elite and the fabulous. (Check out his latest collection at ThaiCatWalk.com.)
With a preference towards silk and a penchant for custom-made dresses, Nagara was making modern Oriental dresses long before "East meets West" became a global marketing mantra.
Metinee Kingpayom, one of Thailand's most famous supermodel-cum-actresses, owns over 20 dresses from her favorite designer of 19 years.
"His evening dresses are elegant and colorful, with each one uniquely designed, sophisticated and tasteful," says Metinee, who was Miss Thailand World 1992.
Metinee's favorite? A custom-made Nagara dress she wore when she accepted a Thai Oscar in 1998, "decorated with beautiful turquoise beetle wings that illuminated the entire dress."
Where to buy
Kai: CentralWorld, Central Chidlom
Flynow: Siam Center, Siam Paragon, Gaysorn, CentralWorld, Central Chidlom, Central Pinklao, Central Ladprao, The Emporium
Nagara: Siam Paragon
Theatre and Issue both have menswear for the more flamboyant and artistic dandy, but for a more conservative feel, look no further than Greyhound.
For more than 30 years, Thai designer Bhanu Inkawat has been using his advertising and graphic design background to create men's clothing that manages to walk the tightrope between simple and inspiring.
White, black and gray fabrics are cut into clean silhouettes and peppered with details to form a dictionary representation of minimalistic chic.
Another fashion house with an easily-wearable men's collection is Ek Thongpraset, the brainchild of Ek (architect turned designer) and Noon Passama S. (product designer turned jeweler).
With their creative forces combined, they develop their own materials to produce timeless menswear that is subtly fashionable. W Hotels has recognized Ek's skills too. He's the first Thai designer to join the fashion savvy hotel brand's Global Fashion Next initiative.
Wearing more individuality on his sleeves is Jirawat Bote Banchakarn of JBB* who draws his inspirations from both the modern world and pre-WWII black and white photos -- think boys in jackets and shorts, and older men in classic tweed jackets.
Signature tailored shorts, handmade brass crests on blazers and vintage buttons on jackets put the chic into geek chic.
"I introduced him to the Men's Fashion Week Committee in Singapore earlier this year", says Utt Panichkul, MTV VJ and television personality.
"What I like about his line is that it's low production, preppy simple, and caters to an Asian male frame."
More on CNNGo: Utt's picks of Thailand in Singapore
Where to buy
Greyhound: Siam Center, Siam Paragon, CentralWorld, Central Ladprao, The Emporium
Ek Thongprasert (through Club 21): Erawan and Siam Paragon
JBB*: Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok (LL floor)
F. Itty bitties
Why does a country with such idyllic beach attractions have little quality swimwear to match?
This question was eradicated with the launch of Phuket Mermaids in 2004. Originally set up on Thailand's most popular island destination, they have since extended their reach around the world, along the way dressing Thai hotties for Miss Thailand World, Miss Tiffany and Miss Earth pageants.
"Having traveled the world, I find it hard to find a great bikini," says Florence Faivre, a recognizable face on global ad campaigns ranging from Old Navy to Puma. "They have fashionable designs with unbelievable stitch work and embroidery."
Out of the ocean and into the bedroom, Boudoir was Disaya Sorakraikitikul's first foray into fashion.
The lingerie line is everything intimate little things should be -- of exquisite quality, sophisticated designs and a tad of naughtiness thrown in for good measure.
Where to buy
Phuket Mermaids: Gaysorn (Cloud 9), River City, Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Suvarnabhumi International Airport
Boudoir by Disaya: Siam Paragon, CentralWorld, Central Chidlom, Central Ladprao, Central Bangna, The Emporium
So by now you're dressed to the nines, inside and out, and need a bit of sparkle.
Many fashion brands such as Disaya and Kloset roll out jewelry pieces to complement their clothing line, but finding strength in numbers is Bangkok Smiths.
The four member brands -- Jogema, Matina Amanita, Missile, Trimode -- offer different takes on the shared quirky and playful group qualities.
While Missile is more rock inspired, Matina Armanita (one of the three sisters behind Sretsis) is more feminine with use of colorful gems.
Jogema is geometrical in nature, and Trimode's avant-garde accessories are made from rubber and other unconventional materials.
Another jeweler who has seen his funky creations strutted down many of the country's catwalks is 77th. Designer Phongmanas Sawaddichai describes his eclectic style as "vintage pop," with coated brass and enameled resin the main materials of choice.
Where to buy
77th: Siam Center, Siam Paragon, The Emporium, Jatujak Weekend Market
Bangkok Smiths: Jogema, Matina Amanita, Missile, and Trimode Accessories are available online at: www.bangkoksmiths.com
Did your favorite Thai fashion brand make the list? Tell us about your favorite designers in the comments box below.