Puttin' on the T

TandT on toning down in order to grow even larger

Thanawut Thanasarnvimon at his store.

Gone are the wooden cart and seaside vibes of Vick's Weekend. That spacious corner, the equivalent of real estate gold in Qurator, the Thai designer fashion zone in EmQuartier, has now made way for another label. Alongside other big houses like Asava, Disaya and Vickteerut, you'll now be greeted with TandT -- the brainchild of Thanawut Thanasarnvimon. It's a big season for this brand that is best known for their rebellious mixture of semi-couture and street wear. Not only is their latest collaboration with Double Goose T-shirts a hit with the fashion cognoscenti, but TandT has also been the latest to join Bangkok Fashion Society this spring -- a milestone most established houses must have tacked on their wall at one point or another. With a small member list that rarely exceeds 15 names, it is undoubtedly the most exclusive club that serves as the governing body and platform for their Thai labels to grow through connections and collaborations.

Being a fashion student who grew up around local shows and events, the founder is excited to finally join the ranks of Bangkok's brightest. Now, on top of his collections, Thanawut will be busy with other projects of the group -- be it making limited pieces for a BFS collection to be sold at EmQuartier, meetings with the Department of Export or designing Thai silk for HRH Princess Sirivannavari.

"I've always felt that BFS was something that guarantees the quality of a Thai designer brand," he says. "You see so many brands born, and some of them aren't even by real designers. It does make you a bit ruffled because it's by people who haven't even studied in the field, because literally anyone can do it now. Sure, it might be their passion, but I feel that people who make it into BFS -- it elevates your brand to another level."

Unexpectedly, TandT has only been around since 2013. After graduating from the Faculty of Art and Design from Rangsit, winning a handful of design contests here and there, and spending a year in New York to prepare for the creation of his brand, Thanawut launched his namesake label, which soon become recognisable for its hand-crafty details that were wearable on the street. "It's a lot of mix-and-match fun and embroidery that isn't too couture," he says. "It's street handicraft and a lot of experiments with patterns. I'm into urban sculpture, too, so I like to have dangling things or moving around structures to create new dimensions to keep things fresh. I like works that aren't all about total looks. My tops can go with some sweat pants and that creates a luxury element, so you could say it falls into the sports-luxury category too."

Although the store is filled with a whole rack of black-and-white frills due to mourning, those who know TandT would be aware that this is the least common sight you could expect. Normally, a bold splash of colours dominates the store, with voluptuous structures spilling out from their tops, and at least four different materials are sported on one skirt. Think cape-shaped minidresses with a riot of pineapple prints, asymmetrical skirts laced with ribbons and sparkly sequins and long gowns made of endless frilly layers of neoprene. Making clothes that are rarely flat, the 30-year-old admits that a dynamic form and eye-catching embroidery comprise the main thread of all his works. Of his disposition towards embroidery, he grins. "It's so krathoey [tranny] and I like it personally. I like excess. I feel like it hits the spot. I feel that [embroidery] completes the dresses." Pointing to a white dress with a froufrou skirt, he adds: "I might have added more pearl embroidery, but my female designer says it's already enough, that it's womanly enough the way it is."

Being young in years, the brand started out catering to the crowd that was in their fun-loving, late teens. The TandT girl when Thanawut first founded his brand was a party girl that likes to have fun. A pretty well-heeled one, too, at that, with his first store located at Gaysorn. "It was much cooler and younger," the 30-year-old recalls. "It would have embroidery all over the whole outfit, where I didn't think about the marketing or the cost of production at all."

Today, however, as the brand moves on to more mature grounds, Thanawut sees his customers turning into first-time mums or women who've just passed their teenage years but still like to have fun dressing up. It translates into making less bombastic clothes, with him now having to offer more basic pieces. Ironically, he has to tone down in order to grow larger. "It's a lot about finding the right balance now," he says. "From this collection onward, it's going to have more softer things, but there will still be heavier pieces around. When I first started, it was a one-man show, and I did everything myself, so I didn't have to worry about anyone. I designed everything and delivered everything myself. If I sold more, then I could afford to eat more, and that was all there was to it. Now there are fixed costs that I have to think about. Come to think of it, I did have more fun back in the day, when I'd make just five pieces with embroidery all over the whole thing and it would sell for five digits. But you need to grow up, so there are more limitations."

TandT store.

His older sister, who looks over the accounting for TandT, is one of the clearest examples of his shifting customer base. "She wouldn't wear my clothes before, because she said it's way too much, over-the-top and embarrassing," he laughs. "She's a really feminine woman, but now I ask her more about my recent pieces, and she's more receptive. That's what I want -- I really do want real women to wear my clothes."

His spring/summer 2017 collection, "Synthesis Garden", is a snazzy selection with familiar frills and silhouettes. Inspired by the millennial horde, Thanawut pokes fun at their lifestyle by offering an outfit for all of their modern day activities: for days of working at the traditional office, for days of working at a hip co-working space, for going on a vacay when work stresses them out too much -- all plastered with carrots and organic vegetables that this cohort must also eat for a "healthy" diet. To counter all that, he also offers one of the most raged-about Ts all the fashion-conscious are wearing. Digging into the archives, Thanawut brings to life the vintage Double Goose logo used on their plastic bags, a sight he was familiar with growing up. Initially, the shy designer was worried that the seniors who ran the old-school T-shirt company wouldn't want anything to do with his project, but much to his relief, they liked his idea and sponsored their classic T-shirts for his collection.

A close-up of the embroidered version of the Double Goose T-shirt.

Capturing the essence of simplicity and lightly mocking hipster culture at the same time, the collaboration definitely hits the target, and is equally worn by the fashionistas, the wannabes and the ones who don't want to bother with dressing up. "I've thought about it, and T-shirts are something that is with us all the time," says Thanawut. "It doesn't need to be showy, and it got me thinking that this brand has been with Thai people a long time. I feel that teens today may not even know about the brand, so I wanted to bring something old and repackage it so these new-gen kids will know."

Of course, he will still keep in line with his quirky and fun side, because the T also comes in an embroidered version. And anyone would know it's a TandT creation from a mile away, decked as it is with red and green beads galore.

Visit TandT at Qurator at EmQuartier.

The SS17 collection 'Synthesis Garden'.

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