Hand-woven silk gets a contemporary makeover in the hands of four renowned desiners
Thai silk has become known the world over in recent years, yet despite all the development that has gone into making the traditional hand-woven textile a visual standout, its use in contemporary ready-to-wear outfits has largely been avoided, not least because of a perception that this delicate fabric is best worn only by the mature and the rich.
That could be about to change thanks to the work of four leading designers – Prapakas Angsusing of Hook’s by Prapakas, Ek Thongprasert, Platt Pladhi, and Theera Chantasawat – who recently showcased a range of interesting outfits in the “Thai Textile for Contemporary Ready-to-Wear” event at Siam Paragon.
The collections, comprising a total of 86 looks which using fabric woven by communities under the Roi Kaen Sarasin, Nakhon Chaiburin and the Royal Peacock brands, made their debut in May in the Spanish city of Valencia where they received rapturous applause.
Platt Pladhi incorporates gorgeous printed silk from Pak Thong Chai district in Nakhon Ratchasima in his designs.
And while the advice for handling Thai silk as gently as possible is as valid as ever the ways in which it can be worn are evolving. “Thai textiles must develop just as fashion constantly changes,” says Platt, who has travelled extensively throughout rural areas to observe the process of textile making as well as to share his knowledge with local weavers and work with them.
“Thai silk is our heritage. It belongs to all of us and should exist in and be part of our everyday lives,” he says of a collection that boasts not just refined cutting and elegant draping but a riot of colours that one would imagine would appear to clash yet manage to look harmoniously outstanding.
“For this collection, I’ve draw upon the colourful prints of silk awarded the Peacock Emblem that is produced in Nakhon Ratchasima’s Pak Thong Chai district. The textiles reflect the contemporary lifestyle through the patterns and structures that are the unique features of my Realistic Situation brand,” he explains.
“My advice is to wear ‘print on print’ and never be afraid of the result. Dressing up should be fun and the colours cry out for mixing and matching.”
Ek Thongprasert regards the uniqueness of the patterns and colours in Thai textiles as their essence and says he regrets that they have yet to blend in with contemporary Thai society.
“The traditional Thai way of passing on knowledge and know-how somehow creates a thick wall that prevents innovations in terms of design,” he laments.
“However, over the past couple of years I have seen the new generation of local weavers going back home to continue the family business as well as the introduction of many government projects aimed at supporting collaboration between designers and local weavers. These factors have led to a swift and impactful development in the industry, allowing a re-introduction of local Thai textiles into the wardrobes of the people of today.”
Ek Thongprasert collection uses the latest “jean silk” innovation from the Thong Saren Silk Group.
His collection is inspired by the way in which contemporary culture is gradually replacing local traditions and he regards the introduction of Thai textiles in contemporary forms as a conversation between rural and urban customs. Using fabrics from the Nakhon Chai Burin group, he mixes and matches various patterns such as a new kind of denim silk produced by Gold Silk Saren, the pa sin teen daeng produced in Buri Ram province as well as the well-known mudmee silk, showing them off through contemporary sportswear.
Thai kick boxing or muay thai is the main theme of this Thailand 4.0 collection that boasts catchy Isaan greetings both screened and embroidered including “Pen-jang-dai” or “Sam-bai-dee-bor” (“how are you?”). The names of the province are incorporated in the designs and Ek adds, “I’ve also included the logo of Burirum United football club, as it’s part of our modern culture that youngsters can easily relate to.”
Theera too has risen to the challenge of revamping and reviving Thai textiles so they become more contemporary and relevant. His first task, he explains, was to change the preconception that Thai textiles are outdated and unfashionable while encouraging local producers to think more globally and to understand the fashion and lifestyle industry.
Last year, his brand T-Ra, with the support from the Ministry of Culture, worked closely with groups of local weavers to create a collection of new and contemporary products that went on to win rave reviews and caught the attention of the popular press.
His designs rely on simplicity, showcasing the draping techniques for which T-Ra is known and boasting hand-woven and naturally dyed fabrics from the Jutatip community in Khon Kaen province.
The fashion show ended with the flowing creations of Prapakas, who has always used Thai silk in the gowns sold under his Hook’s by Prapakas brand. Like his three peers, he feels all Thai designers should be honour-bound to make Thai silk relevant again. “We should try to see Thai silk as one type of fabric and material that has got its own characteristics like all other fabrics from all other countries and work from there, setting aside our biases as well as preconceptions that prevent so many of us from working with Thai silk and wearing Thai silk,” he says.
He also hopes to be able to impart the knowledge regarding colours, colour-pairings, and an understanding of trends to the local weavers so that they are able to design and produce textiles that answer the needs of a wide spectrum of clients.
The inspiration for Prapakas’s collection comes from his recent trips to the Northeast of Thailand and he translates this into gowns made from silk producers from the Roikhaen Sarasin group in Kalasin province. With long experience from designing for stage performances, he applies his unique skills in stitching, layering, and embroidery, bringing these many different fabrics that vary in terms of texture and thickness to gowns that are both elegant and thoroughly modern.