Hybrid theory

Senior fashion students weave their heritage and bold ideas together in surprising ways

The Thai heritage trend we see in fashion is becoming more and more palpable lately. It's surfacing in brands such as Issue and Flynow III around us and it is clearly the theme for this year's Srinakharinwirot University fashion seniors' theses.

Just recently, "Fasheritage" took place at Siam Center to showcase the thesis projects of 36 students from Srinakharinwirot University (SWU), where the country's most established fashion programme has been around since 2001.

The fact that some students' works have graced the runways during past Bangkok Fashion Weeks has made SWU an recognised player in this field.

The fashion show was divided into two rounds, with between four and 10 models walking down the runway for each student's collection. The theme changes every year for students, but with "Fasheritage" this year, students were required to incorporate some sort of local Thai art into their collection of 10 different looks.

"It's a trend we're seeing everywhere these days because it's something the Ministry of Culture is really pushing to promote," says student Viput Janajaratwattana. Although she finds this year's theme limiting, it has been eye-opening for her to learn about all the different indigenous crafts and skills. "My friends and I are learning completely different things and it's great to learn of other traditional crafts that I've never even seen or heard of." Other students are more intrigued.

"The fact that the theme is all about improving on ethnic craft makes our theses even more valuable and worthy of anyone's attention, in my opinion," says Tippapa Na Nakorn. "It's more distinctive and harder to create and it will surely differ from other fashion theses elsewhere around the world."

The techniques come from all over the country. While interest is the main reason students pick certain styles of craft, it is also a factor if it comes from their own home town or region. Part of the research process means students have to actually travel to the region and learn from villagers how the technique is done.

Tippapa headed out to Nakhon Si Thammarat for her work on the technique of hammering nang talung (shadow puppets). For her creation, she actually hammered the pattern onto the material herself, using knowledge acquired from villagers.

For Pachareepoan Piboontanakiat, who choose to work with khid from Chiang Rai, the locals had to make the textile for her. Regardless, the student is the one who has to design the patterns and be very specific about what they want the local people to do.

Pachareepoan recalls: "It's a great two-way process. We're not only learning from them but we're also exchanging opinions and they're gaining from us too, as in how to modernise their craft so farang or tourists will find it appealing."

Wiphu Supanyapinit, the only student to create a men's collection this year, could not travel to the location of his art form as it is in one of the three provinces at the southern border. Nevertheless, he learned about the artistry on kolae boats through mail and talking on the phone to the locals, probably saving more on travelling costs compared to his classmates.

It is a widely-known but unwritten law that students who want to study fashion must be ready to shoulder the costs. While the tuition fee is very affordable, about 12,000 baht per term, the cost of producing the clothes for the thesis alone can spiral to more than 100,000 baht. For Viput, who has also designed and produced shoes, handbags and accessories to add to her outfits, this means not only more work, but higher costs.

The process that leads to the final looks we see on the catwalk is a long refinement that has students drawing up many hundreds of different sketches.

Developing their inspiration and polishing their technical skills, the students' final works are deeply layered in meaning and context - they do not work backwards from a loose inspiration and even the titles are not merely words tacked on to match the clothes.

"There must be a certain reason why something is cut a specific way to relate to our inspirations and techniques used - it's not just randomly there because we feel like putting it there," says Wiphu.

The final looks on the catwalk can be classified into two categories, between ready-to-wear and avant-garde. Some of the outfits may look outrageously overboard, but Wiphu explains that it is simply to garner more interest.

"We have to go a bit over the notch or else things risk looking too plain. However, if the different pieces in each look are worn individually, it becomes very wearable in everyday life. The thesis fashion show displays our work to the public and I hope it gets across the fact that we aren't here just to have fun with dressing up day by day, but that we are serious about making clothes to feed real life."

It is the very first year that every single senior is given the chance to showcase their work, and for that the students are thrilled.

"The public showing gives us more prospects for success and students lose a great opportunity if they don't get to show their work like in the previous years," says Tippapa.

Viput agrees: "A public showing of our work is so crucial. Some clothes our professors didn't like were appreciated by magazines. Others get picked up by Ploy Chermarn or Chompoo. The more reach the better as fashion has always been a matter of different tastes and preferences for everyone."

About the author

Writer: Text:: Parisa Pichitmarn, Photos:: Thanarak Khooton