The Thais That Bind

VI G1Thai fashion designers have been getting quite a bit of international press in the past five years, thanks to Thakoon Panichgul and Nunthirat ‘Koi’ Suwannagate. Mr Panichgul and Ms Sunwannagate, interestingly, do not consider themselves to be Thai designers, preferring, it is heard, to be identified as New York designers. In fashion, where you’re based is more important than where you’re born. Mr Panichgul is reported to shy away from the overtures of Thai buyers to represent him in Bangkok as he wishes to be associated with New York so as, many suspect, to better attract a powerful clientele. Despite the snub, Thais are so enamoured with these two overseas fashion stars that the pair’s high-profile customers are considered to “have flown the flag for Bangkok’s designers”.

Flag-bearing, however, may not have been Vatit Itthi’s main objective, even when the brand has relocated its base from Chicago to Bangkok. During the on-going Fashion Week, the label showed mainstream looks that perpetuated a common belief: for fashion to qualify as high style, it has to subscribe to shapes of the past, preferably from the Forties, Fifties or Sixties. Two guys are behind the Vatit Itthi label: Vatit Virashpanth and Itthi Metanee, and the pairing offered double the nostalgia. With such fashionable elegance of another time, it seemed that these fellows had been watching quite a few Hollywood movies costumed by Edith Head while defining their American sportswear sensibility.

VI G2The old-fashioned approach to their designs brought to mind Thai fashion of the past or designers such as Pichita (Boonyarataphan Ruksajit, who is now usually remembered as the woman behind the Thai Airways uniforms) or Kai (Somchai Kaewthong, who is now the man to go to when your mother needs a dress for your wedding). It was a return to the classic, a celebration of already celebrated stylistic forms. Perhaps, for the designing duo, it was a more realistic view of couture since it is possible that their customers could be women of a certain age.

Tried as they did with varying the silhouette, their outfits did not pack a punch, never mind not breaking new ground. A form-fitting bustier dress was topped with tulle that had negligible embroidery, a fit-and-flare ball gown was designed with an inverted U-shape cutout to reveal a jewel-tone underskirt, a bustier dress with a bubble skirt that ended above the knee was finished with chiffon the rest of the way, and, to add interest, floral appliqués cascaded from where the two fabrics met like decorations on costumes of Loy Krathong beauty queens.

And you had a feeling you have seen them somewhere in Siam Centre.

The show closed with a yellow and cream gown, first worn by former Miss Thailand Cindy Sirinya Burbridge during Elle Fashion Week in Bangkok, less than a week before Vatit Ithhi was due to show here. The dress comprised a bodice of a bustier fronted by another with ears, and a full skirt parted, curtain-like, in the middle, recalling a certain “Propaganda” dress from London during the Fall/Winter 2005 season. What was disconcerting was the token embroidery in black that sprouted—like common orchids—from the right hip to part of the posterior. These spray-bits were a recurrent theme, but given their sparseness and odd placement, they were not modest, but meagre. As one woman in the audience said, “Thai designers usually offer more.”

Fashion Week 2013 is staged at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre Hall F from now through 19 October

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