Today marks one of the great milestones in the Thai fashion market - the much-anticipated public opening of the Swedish fast fashion chain H&M. With a space spanning across two floors at Siam Paragon, the retail giant will be the final player in the mass retail circle here, where the likes of MNG, Zara, Gap and Uniqlo have indulged in success.
Of course the aforementioned market leaders have hardly remained still awaiting the arrival of their arch-rival. Zara premiered the new look of its store at Siam Paragon only a few days before H&M's opening, and that followed the recent launch of its new store at MegaBangna. Uniqlo has successfully registered its position as the No.1 choice when thinking of a basic piece with quality, as well as the much-loved technology behind the Heattech line - comfort wear for colder months. Mango - a reincarnated version of MNG - has jumped on the celebrity endorsement bandwagon by recruiting the supermodel who once lent her Midas' touch to Topshop, Kate Moss, while expanding into menswear line with HE by Mango and the accessories line Mango Touch. America's biggest chain Gap has also offered some thrill beyond the basic with the children's wear collection by Diane von Furstenberg.
It's true these fashion chains have become the favourite destination of shoppers who look for bargains. However, let's admit it, you'll be nowhere close to looking either polished or stylish should you leave home head-to-toe in fast fashion items.
"Fashion is about mixing various pieces together to achieve a good look. Knowing how to put together stuff from luxury brands and high street is the way to go for modern women in order to achieve a sophisticated look," said Polpat Asavaprapha, founder and creative director of Asava, and personal stylist at Siam Paragon, home to both luxury houses and high street brands.
Muse talks to Thailand's influential style personalities and uncovers the secrets of looking good beyond merely buying the expensive. Here, they share with us how to make the best of your adventures in high street kingdoms.
Not everyone can afford to go head-to-toe in luxury brands but wearing high street head-to-toe is not a good idea either. The best thing to shop for in high-street chains is the plainest stuff of all like white T-shirts or basic black trousers. If you can spend a little more, you may want to go for designers' collaboration such as Uniqlo+J when the chain collaborated with Jil Sander, and you can have basic pieces with quality that are worth the value for money.
"It's better to avoid shopping for pieces that are very outstanding at high street chains because it's likely that the pieces are 'inspired by' some runway pieces. As for some statement items that require quality material and technological know-how like jackets, shoes and handbags, you should just invest in a really good one from a luxury brand."
Editor-in-chief, Elle Thailand
The easiest way to shop at high street chains is to buy the most basic pieces while the most risky items are anything with prints. As the name suggests, the mass retail chain produces products in mass quantity and there's never a scarier fashion faux pas than running into another person wearing the same prints you wear. In terms of basic pieces like T-shirts, I would say Uniqlo has quite an outstanding cut for the price you pay. You may find some more fashionable pieces from Zara, but I'd rather buy not anything too overtly fashionable since it's likely to be inspired by runway items.
"Another thing is that, personally, I'd never buy cocktail or evening dresses since at those prices - and the materials and quality that come with such prices - it's difficult to achieve a decent look, let alone one that's risk-proof when it comes to not running into someone wearing the exact same thing."
Stylist and founder of Again and Again, and Jogema
The notion of fast fashion is something you don't take very seriously in terms of fashion - something you buy and wear for fun - so investment pieces are a no-no. The savvy shoppers know which fashion items need to be constructed with the highest skills and expertise, and they understand that without such skills and expertise, an attempt will end up in wardrobe trash. So, the items that you can buy at fast fashion retailers are those that do not require complicated pattern making like basic skirts and plain tops.
"Of course some want to buy trendy pieces that won't last over six months from these chains, but one thing you need to bear in mind is that not all trendy pieces are easy to make. Take, for example, the pointy-shouldered jacket pioneered by Balmain seasons ago. The piece actually requires immense craftsmanship to make a really good one. Of course you saw countless similar jackets on the street, but I couldn't say they looked good. Stuff like cocktail dresses are also another item you really can't look good in unless it comes with high-quality material and good construction.
"So, the best way to shop for fast fashion is to go basic, buying pieces that you can use in layering. You can also buy easy pieces like jeans as well. Just keep in mind that you can sell goods at a low price only when you produce it with low costs. All pieces in a shop have to share production costs, so there certainly will be some that look like you just threw garbage together on cloth."
Founder/creative director, Asava and personal stylist, Siam Paragon.
It's easy to buy very trendy and fashionable items that you know won't last over one or two seasons or some very showy items that can be easily recognised, which you will wear only once or twice. The trick is, when you pick an item and start to be worried whether it will be out of fashion soon, then you should buy it from high-street chains so you don't regret the money you spend. Another type of item you may want to buy from high street is a designers' collaboration.
"Some items like shoes, you need to look at the quality and quality only comes with price. From my own experience, buying cheap shoes is not worth the pain at all."
Trend and beauty editor, Lips magazine
You may want to go for those very fashion forward pieces and print-on-print stuff that won't last long when you shop in high street because these items will be out of fashion in no time. You know you're looking for something that allows you to be in trend, not something you want for quality. However, my advice is that when you wear these overtly trendy items at such a price, you need to mix it with other high-quality items.
"I'm not particularly fond of buying wardrobe staples like white shirts and T-shirts from some high street chains because you tend to wear them very often and the colours will easily fade and the fabrics get wrinkly very easily. They tend to look old very fast. If you're going to buy something that you need to wear often to work - which means you need to look good in it - you need to invest."
Fashion editor, Marie Claire Thailand
All mass brands have their core items that they promote like Uniqlo having Heattech and basic T-shirts, which are produced from technology they are proud of. So that's why Uniqlo will always be a popular choice for innerwear and easy pieces you wear at home. They don't touch anything overtly fashionable and stick to what they do best - everyday wear that everyone can enjoy.
"For H&M, I still see them as a brand with roots in Scandinavia, so I kind of think their strength is jackets and outerwear. Not that you always need to spend a huge amount on all jackets because you need jackets for various functions. In some cases, you can find something worth the cost at H&M. Also, jackets are becoming a staple in changing your look so people need a number of jackets - not just a function piece like before. In this, you don't need to buy all jackets from luxury brands at all.
"However, it won't be a good idea to go out dressed head-to-toe in mass brands. It's better to match them with designers' handbags or shoes and dress in a way that you draw attention to your luxury pieces because what those mass brands give to consumers is a choice in looking good without spending too much."
Founder and designer, Senada