Thailand has struggled to get rid of its reputation as the fake apparel and bargain clothing hub of the world, but in recent years it has begun to emerge as a trendy and style-savvy nation with young designers being nurtured and starting to appear on the world stage.
The Bangkok Fashion Week is held twice annually, in March and October and is the springboard for many upand-coming designers as well as a showcase for more established brands such as Greyhound, which was established in the 1980s and is a Bangkok fashion pioneer. Greyhound, which specialises in sophisticated business attire, has welcomed new, young designers to the fold and spun off new brands which cater to younger buyers.
Although Bangkok Fashion Week doesnt rank up there with Paris, New York and London, international designers are slowly coming to see the advantages of showing in Thailand and Jimmy Choo from London and Dorian Ho from Hong Kong have been recent visitors, putting on very popular catwalk shows.
Thai fashion received a boost in 2008 when Michelle Obama wore one of Thakoon Panichguls creations and brought Thai designers into the spotlight. Koi Suwannagate is another designer popular with the jet-set, best known for dressing Oprah Winfrey and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Nagara is yet another well-known Thai fashion designer. He regularly puts on shows at Bangkok Fashion Week and is famous for his East meets West designs. He is one of the most well established designers working in Thailand, having started in 1981, and he has seen the industry develop and change over the past 28 years. He believes Thailand still lacks a dynamic fashion scene which is why Thai designers travel a lot and find inspiration from other countries. However he concedes that the culture is changing and that as Thai journalists become more knowledgeable about fashion and younger designers receive support, the future looks much brighter.
Nagara also makes it clear that Thai designers dont generally design according to seasons, as happens in the rest of the world, as there is no autumn or winter in Thailand. This means it is difficult to fit in with the international shows and more and more Thai designers are turning to custom-made, one-of- a-kind pieces which do not form part of a seasonal collection.
A new young designer who specialises in just this, custom made pieces which are all unique, is Tipayaphong Poosanaphong who debuted at Bangkok Fashion Week in 2007 and produces hand-stitched clothes with lots of sequins, buttons and bold fabrics. The catwalk shows are always interesting and whimsical creations as well.
The art of shopping has become more sophisticated in Bangkok, with the opening of Siam Paragon and refurbishment of Central World Plaza, with the knock on effect of creating more opportunities for young and trendy Thai designers. In the past department stores and shops played it safe, only stocking well-known global brands, but now more are likely to take a risk on local young designers knowing that their clientele like to be seen in the latest, quirky pieces which are not going to be seen on anyone else when they go out.
So keep an eye out for the next Bangkok Fashion Week. They are generally held in very accessible places such as Central World Plaza or the Queen Sirkit Convention Centre and feature not only the best of Thai and international designers but the wonderful silks and textiles that Thailand is justly famous for. An added bonus is being able to name-drop the latest, trendiest young people working in fashion to impress your friends.