Who’s Cup Of Tea?

In Bangkok, a label such as Sheranut is a dime a dozen. They can be found across the city, in many stores where glamour in its lurid and exaggerated forms is appreciated and desired. Often times, the person behind the label is an attractive individual of some social standing who did not necessarily start out in fashion design, but through love of dressing up, retail therapy, and social-media-as-market-place, birthed a clothing label. The Bangkok’s fashion scene is awash with them, such as BFFs Sawitri Rochanapruk and Jirada Yohara’s Hahaha: The Happy Girls, blogger Nun Stannard’s Blatantly Blue, restaurateur Anchalee Vikasidnakhakun’s Anchavika, and fashion editor at Thai Marie Claire Guitar Patinya’s eponymous Patinya that, last week, hosted a private showing at the Four Seasons Hotel here.

And now there’s Sheranut, a two-year-old label conceived by Thai actress cum singer Sheranut Yusananda. Known by her nickname Namcha (literally, tea in Thai), Ms Yusananda is a recent full-fledged (co-)designer of her label after first finding modest success selling her wares on Instagram. Truth is, she does not have the pedigree of Pimdao Sukhahuta of Stretsis. Even her career in film and music is, to Thais, mediocre, at best. That’s why the brand’s appearance last night at Singapore Fashion Week, now supposedly poised to take the event to the next level, is a bummer, simply because SGFW deserves the best, not the commonplace or the accidental fashion designer.

Ms Yusananda may have served a deep-hued pot of tea at her first, er, brewing in Singapore, but it was a flavourless infusion. Despite a fierce presentation choreographed by Bangkok’s veteran show producer Sombatsara Thirasaroj, affectionately known as Tue (pronounced as ‘pig’ in Hokkien), with a military-style finale that recalls Vanessa Beecroft’s display for Kanye West, her clothes had sex and scintillation, but no substance. All the pumped-up skin-tight sexiness was oddly paradoxical to the intro, unveiled unexpectedly to the audience, who was called to stand to attention as a photo of the recently deceased King Bhumibol was projected on the rear wall of the National Gallery’s Auditorium Foyer, while the royal anthem Sanrasoen Phra Barami played, immediately recalling the ritual prior to a movie screening in a Thai cinema.

Once the clothes emerged, it was obvious the solemn prelude was a token formality. The first model appeared in a constricted skirt so tight she could barely strut. Body-hugging was really the order of the day; together with every cliché Thai designers have a tendency to embrace when it comes to sexiness with a certain sternness: the halter neck, the bare shoulders, the bare back, low V-front as well as back (so that some form of horizontal strap was required in the rear to hold the top together), the barely-there slip, the sequinned nude dress, swingy tented shapes, fringed skirts, ‘car-wash’ skirts and dresses, body stockings, and the obligatory skinny pants. The collection, with its oblique reference to tribal Africa (the face paint was more half-baked than convincing and the full-face jewellery was more joke than jaunty), was a hodgepodge more in common with a market such as Bangkok’s famed Chatuchak than the swank seen in malls such as the new Siam Discovery. A zebra-print pantsuit, Ms Yusananda might wish to note, does not Africa make.

To understand the appeal and the viability of a brand such as Sheranut, it is useful to know that the Bangkok beau monde includes a group known as “hiso”, a uniquely Thai word that’s a portmanteau of high and society. It is not necessarily a term of compliment or endearment. Hiso, sometimes scorned by the intelligentsia, refers to both male and female, and may include another category, the dara—stars. Sheranut Yusananda is not only a member of the hiso, she is—because of her other professions—also a dara. The hiso-dara is more often than not a fashion plate with a taste quite identifiable by the carefully struck balance of sexiness, trendiness, and pretend modesty. Sheranut’s debut here allows the uninitiated a peak into this distinctive world that has less to do with real design talent than the love of dressing the hiso-dara self. Fashion is actually secondary.

Singapore Fashion Week 2016 is staged at the National Gallery from 26 to 30 Oct