Chiang Mai puts its best fashion foot forward
Chiang Mai is often referred to as the “Rose of the North”, surrounded by and famed for its proximity to overwhelming natural jungle and mountain beauty. However, it has also become increasingly popular for the number and variety of cultural experiences it has to offer.
On a recent press tour, organized by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), journalists were invited to learn about, and witness first-hand, the continuing success of the local—and national—fabric and fashion industries. Thailand has long been famous for the quality and diversity of its fabrics, and many now believe the time has come for the Kingdom to enjoy the spotlight being shone on it by the fashion world.
On the weekend of August 18th to 20th, the TAT hosted the spectacular The Magic of Thai Fabric fashion show in the majestic grounds of the Royal Park Rajapreuk, just outside Chiang Mai city. Featuring the eye-catching work of five of Thailand’s top fashion designers and their students, all working with fabrics and designs that reflect and represent different regions and styles of the nation, this opulent extravaganza was not just a who’s who of the Thai fashion world but was also of sufficient interest to attract Nigel Barker, ex-judge on America’s Next Top Model, and now a highly respected fashion photographer and author. Having co-hosted the TV show with super model Tyra Banks, Barker is instantly recognizable and still an influential figure in American TV fashion circles. He’s currently heavily involved in the TV show The Face, which has a Thai version that sees the winners appearing on American television. In short, when he speaks the fashion world listens, and he was mightily impressed with what he saw in Chiang Mai.
“Thailand’s always been famous for its fabrics” he noted enthusiastically. “From what I’ve seen at this event their styles are now ready to enter the wider fashion world. I saw a mix of dramatic eclectic risk-taking designs that encompassed punk, Elizabethan, and Mongolian styles that could easily work in the United States, and I’ll definitely be talking about Thai fashion at the upcoming New York Fashion Week.”
Throughout the evening, as Nigel was greeted by friends old and new, it was clear the esteem in which he’s held in Thai fashion circles and having him attend the show was a notable coup for both TAT and the Thai fashion scene in general.
The show demonstrated a bold and diverse use of fabrics, colours, and designs, and was seamlessly executed to the delight of the attentive and appreciative crowd—who earlier in the day had taken the opportunity to browse the striking grounds while surveying a selection of the designers striking works. The evening was a resounding success and one left the show confident that Thailand’s fabric and fashion industries are very much in the ascendant.
The day before the show the TAT had organized a visit to Ban Don Luang, approximately 20 minutes southwest of Lamphun, to get a “behind-the-scenes” and first-hand glimpse of local Thai fabric production. This village has been dedicated to hand-weaving cotton since 1992, and hosts several exhibitions during the course of the year that offer homestays and see the village roads transformed into a walking-street where the upwards of 1,000 visitors a day can wander in and around the homes of the workers—marvelling at their skill and trying their hand at fabric making themselves (if so inclined).
Depending on the operative, a metre of cotton can take an hour to weave and net the artisan around 40 baht. Weaving tends to be an all-female endeavour, with skills handed down through the generations. But the trade is also taught in the village school, as the locals attempt to keep their independent way of life both intact and flourishing. The villagers here are proud to trace their roots to and call themselves Tai Yun—their historic style of dress can be even found in the mural paintings at Wat Phra Sing Waramahavihan in Chiang Mai.
Their wares, which are for sale in the village, can be found at Wararot Market, and the famous Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai, as well as in the Prathunam fashion district in Bangkok. But if you’re in the area, I’d highly recommend a journey to Don Luang—for either a half or full day-trip, or as an overnight homestay—as it provides an authentic and engaging experience that shows visitors real Thai rural lifestyles. And, as is always the case in Thailand, you’re guaranteed a warm welcome.
For more information about visiting Ban Don Luang, visit: www.tourismthailand.org.
By Gary Anthony Rutland