Innovation and preservation at the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles
Opened in 2010, the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles embodies the elegance and exquisite timeless beauty of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit, a true incarnation of the quintessential Thai woman. The marble house, with its chandeliers, ionic columns and marble floor, seems almost to have been built to serve as a jewel box for the most beautiful ornaments of Thailand’s monarchy. But that’s not the case. In fact, the Italian-style structure—built by the architect Joachim Grassi in 1870 for King Rama IV—was first used as the Royal Office for Tax Revenues, before hosting the Ministry of Finance.
After sitting empty for many decades, Grassi’s ornate structure was eventually transformed into the textile museum we know today—located within the extended grounds of the Grand Palace—and as such it is a leading institution in the field of Thai fabrics. Following a complete renovation, the museum opened its doors with the aim of showing visitors the textile production and the skilled craftsmanship of Thailand’s artisans.
The museum’s dual purpose, however, is also to preserve, foster, promote, and revive the Kingdom’s traditional textile industry. A dedicated textile conservation laboratory, a state of the art storage room—which can house between 10,000 and 15,000 items—and an education centre are all part of the museums’ attributes.
Those who visit the museum are given the opportunity to get a glimpse into the fabulous fashion collection of the Thai monarchy, and particularly of HM Queen Sirikit. “Her Majesty gave to the museum a collection of 300 to 400 costumes and accessories, but we can only show some 50 to 60 items in our gallery,” explains a member of the museum staff.
Two exhibitions are currently on display. One looks at the sophisticated way to create costumes for Khon performances (traditional Thai drama). Many forgotten traditions have been revived to create sophisticated performers’ costumes. Meanwhile, a second exhibition, entitled ‘Fit For a Queen’, will display (until 2018) some 40 exquisite dresses that Queen Sirikit wore on official visits throughout Europe and the United States. In 1960, the Royal Couple toured the globe for six months, visiting the USA and 14 European countries in a bid to strengthen political and economic relations between Thailand and the rest of the world, and also to expose Thailand’s culture and arts on a worldwide scale. With her elegant natural grace, Queen Sirikit turned herself into an icon of Thai elegance and fashion with her tailor-made dresses—which eventually got the Queen included into the International “Best-Dressed” lists.
The Queen chose French designer Pierre Balmain to create special items. Western European forms blended with Thai textiles such as silk brocade, while also using embroideries. The Queen’s own collection reflected a sense of innovation and anchored Thai fashion on the international stage. Many of the dresses shown are just amazing, and some are truly surprising. Take for instance the simple white dress that Her Majesty wore to meet Elvis Presley, or the amazing evening dress from 1960, dotted with Thai embroidery patterns on a body shape reminiscent of 18th century French costumes.
In the mid-sixties, Balmain also created dresses with a distinctive Thai character. The exhibition testifies that Queen Sirikit’s wardrobe was created in the spirit of a certain modernity. It still looks for modern day equivalent.
Note: Entry price is B150, with seniors, students and youths benefiting of discounting rates. For visitors with a ticket for the Grand Palace, the textile museum can be visited free of charge.
Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles
Open daily: 9am-4:30pm | Tel: 02 225 9420