Thailand has talents as proven by numerous occasions when young Thai designers have been recognised on the local and global stages. For over a decade, the government has been very supportive with various institutions and initiatives aimed at fostering local talents.
Government’s support for Thai design
The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has been very supportive of Thai design, old and new, especially through ongoing exhibitions and workshops at its travel trade fairs and international road shows as well as familiarisation trips. Among the best examples was at a Thailand Travel Mart in Chiang Mai where superbly designed and elegantly crafted products and contemporary arts and crafts were a major hit among buyers.
Other government agencies; such as, the Ministry of Commerce recognises the creativity of Thai designers through its annual Design Excellence Award.
Another government initiative, the OTOP label (OTOP represents the One Tambon (District) One Product project) created 20 years ago, has been helping to identify and promote iconic products synonymous with each of the 77 provinces. Many OTOP products have earned global recognition and are sought after by both foreign dealers and visiting tourists.
“Thai design is in many aspects very different from the way other countries; such as, Japan, South Korea or Taiwan develop their design industry. During the Asian financial crisis 20 years ago, the finance and banking sector saw the needs to convert back to the basics by looking at the way of life. So Thai design is born from emotion, from craft made with heart rather than for mass production. This is what people see today when they think about Thai design,” said Eggarat Wongcharit, a designer and long-term curator of the Thailand Pavilion at the Milan Design Week, the largest event about design in the world.
Thai designers and artists
Thailand designer’s scene is today very lively covering various fields including fashion, home design, jewels, architecture and visual arts. Fashion brands; such as, Greyhound, Kloset, Gin & Milk, Pomelo, Senada or Tube Gallery are now well established among fashionistas.
Street art artist Alex Face with his iconic little man wearing a rabbit hat with a third eye has gained worldwide reputation with his painting splashed on walls across the planet.
*Alex Face’s three-eyed child Mardi
In Thailand, designers and artists can be discovered up and down the country, but there are two major centres for talents. Bangkok is the most important ‘talent fabric’, as the capital offers the most opportunities with its universities, the presence of national and international corporations, and the possibility to get a job. Meanwhile Chiang Mai is regarded as a centre for young designers, backed by a centuries-long tradition of arts and crafts that has been adapted to the taste of modern consumers.
Chiang Mai, home of traditional and contemporary Thai design
Many experts in design will say that most of Bangkok creativity is nurtured by talents’ hatching in Chiang Mai or Northern Thailand in general. Beyond the Night Bazaar, visitors to Chiang Mai will find designer shops settled in 100-year teak houses along Charoen Rat Road, an old street running parallel to the Ping River. The Nimmanhaemin Road Night Market is also turning these days into a new hot spot for hipsters and design fans to admire the latest ideas of local craftsmen.
There are design shops everywhere in Chiang Mai with many brands now leading in their field. Angsa Jewellery, one of Chiang Mai finest makers of filigree jewellery, is the second generation of designers who perpetuate a tradition adding a contemporary touch with delicate jewels all made in pure gold and silver. The Craft de Quarr shop boasts exquisite contemporary crafts from hill tribes, while Krit Boutique has a fashion line inspired by Lanna traditions.
*Craft de Quarr
Every year in December, the Chiang Mai Design Week celebrates its local design scene. Designers, craftspeople and creative entrepreneurs showcase their new projects and innovations in design to cater to the needs of modern living.
Emerging Isan design
An emerging area for Thai design is in the Northeast (Isan), a place where local wisdom translates into the use of agricultural products; such as, bamboo or rice shoots to create elegant objects. Silk or cotton weaving has also been part of the local culture and way of life in this region of Thailand for centuries.
At the forefront is the T-Style or Thai style under the concept of ‘Isan object’ spearheaded by the Thailand Office of Innovation and Value Creation, Department of International Trade Promotion, Ministry of Commerce.
Under the project, three renowned Thai designers have travelled across Isan to meet the locals and help them translate local wisdom into lifestyle products as well as fashion items and ornaments for the international market. They are M.L. Pawinee (Sukhaswasdi) Santisiri, Pichitra Boonyarataphan and Pirada Senivongse Na Ayudhya of the brands Ayodhya, Atelier Pichita and Trimode, respectively. Many of these ‘Isan objects’ are available in Bangkok’s premium department stores.
Bangkok, the capital of Thai talent
Thailand’s capital is indeed where visitors will find the largest choice of design objects coming from all over the country. Some of Bangkok’s malls generally dedicate a large section to Thai crafts, design and fashion.
Top of the list is Siam Centre and Siam Discovery. Siam Centre was renovated a couple of years ago with a focus on design. All the shops are bearing a specific funky trendy style with the second and third floor concentrating most on local designers. In Siam Discovery, ODS (Objects of Desire) boasts the best of Thai design spread across the fourth floor. The fifth floor also offers a wide range of design objects linked to organic production. ODS recently opened an outlet at the brand new ICONSIAM shopping complex.
Also dedicated to Thai designers, THAITHAI @ZEN at CentralWorld features Thai fashion on the second floor of the Zen Department Store. Alternatively, and a cheaper option, is Terminal 21 mall at the BTS Asok station which has a wide choice of products by young Thai designers, ranging from funky T-shirts to innovative design objects. It is definitely difficult to resist!