When thinking of fashion centers one usually first thinks of New York, London , Paris and Milan. These are the world leaders for the ‘Haute Couture’ and ‘Pret a Porte’ clothing markets. Long distinguished for snobbery and prices that only a minor percentage of the worlds financial elite can afford. The ‘one off’ styles and exclusivity of those markets are far beyond the reach of a majority of people outside the rarefied circles of the decadent rich. So where do the rest of us go to find really hip clothes, ‘The Hip Kingdom’ of course.
The youth culture of Bangkok Thailand has responded to an economic miracle which has swept up the booming under thirty populace in an embrace of all things trendy. This market exudes confidence and style, underpinned by a generation of designers who carry an innate sense of energy and fun into their designs. ‘Girly Girl’ is a term often used to describe Thai women’s fashion. The female form and feminine exuberance is celebrated to the ‘nth degree’ with some pretty amazing results.
Cultured chiffon tutu’s worn with fine silk blouses under razor cut jean jackets and topped with a slimmed down pork pie hat are not frowned on. Hats and whimsical fascinators are all the rage. Purses and accessorizes are imaginative. Today I caught myself noticing a girls ear rings made to resemble make up brushes in miniature. I had to point them out to my wife so that she didn’t get the idea that my appreciation for the creative spark was anything else. Today’s style conscious girl is part high fashion inspired and part Bo Ho stylist. Feather ear rings and sixties inspired headbands woven with paper flowers are making the scene this week.
No one is afraid of mixing elegance with colour in this tropical paradise. There are no preordained restrictions or seasonal handcuffs on trend as in the west. Fashion here is not run by an elite few ‘houses’ dictating ‘the look’. Instead, new fashions are produced by entrepreneurial small businesses and excited individuals who are flexing their design prowess in the face of ‘big fashion’ and agile enough to redesign at the drop of a hat day to day. The result is fresh, hot and in the moment clothing ready for the rack. This is not your mothers fashion scene. The turnover would make a western retailer drool. The nice thing about fashion in Bangkok is that it looks ‘spontaneous’ instead of manufactured. There is none of the boring repetition of the North American markets. In this way it resembles the individuality of London, where anything goes. You won’t see the same thing in store after store.
Demographics resulting from two decades of economic growth are the driving force behind this fashion bonanza. In a population of seventy million people, slightly more than fifty percent of the people are under thirty years old, half of those women. Look around and you’ll be struck that a baby boom is under way. There are pregnant women and young mom’s everywhere. This is a confident young population with money to burn !
Young people are edgy by nature, when you have a concentration of affluent young people you get action. Bangkok’s suburbanites and city kids are dancing the night away in styles that may have only been tossed out of the factory that day. This is the proving ground for styles that are being looked at for mass production in Europe and North America. Typically Asian fashions are two to three years ahead of the western wholesalers distribution cycle.
Brand names are not de rigeur as style statements. Young Asian women are more interested in fun than they are on brand recognition. The push for luxury brands in Asia comes from the establishment of wealthy matrons or nouveau riche of China. Young girls want ‘trendy and temporary’ . If I had to further explain this dichotomy I would say that it is the differance between London and Paris fashion. In London the girls are ‘in the moment’ and fashion forward wherever the mood takes them. In Paris girls want to dress like their mothers. Bangkok is definatley like London in this regard, very hip and carelessly exuberant.
Thailand is a recognized leader for fashion among people in the Asian region. Women from far and wide come to Bangkok to shop. It is no secret among ladies in Asia that fashionable clothes can be had for a fraction of the price they’d pay in Tokyo, Singapore, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taipei. Shopping weekends are all the rage among groups of friends and office colleagues who junket once or twice a year to the fashion centers of Thailand.
Thailand is easily accessible with cheap airfares and reasonable hotels. The new push towards 24 hour check out times is novel and garnering attention in the hospitality industry. No longer do you have to check out at eleven for a five o’clock flight back to Singapore. The new policy allows an additional six hours of comfortable shopping time. Over a weekend six hours is a lot of shopping time.
It is not only in the big established malls where great deals and funky fashions are found. The female fashionista’s of Asia know that outlaying markets in the suburbs offer surprisingly good selection at prices far below the major malls downtown. Bus tour operators also know this and there is a long established history of bus tours of shoppers from all over Asia who sweep through the outlaying centers like Lat Prao, Samrong, Bangna, to name a few. When they arrive by these women shop like champions. Why wouldn’t they? Where else can you pick up a sexy black cocktail dress for three dollars and matching shoes for the same price. These are new designer shoes not bargain basement rejects! Who cares if they don’t last a lifetime. You want to look young and hot right now. Credit cards are accepted.
I just got back from escorting my wife on a shopping afternoon through two suburban markets. We bought T-shirts for my kids back in Canada for $2.50 each that would cost me at least $20 in Canada. The last time I was in London, printed T’s were 12 pounds ! My wife bought a fresh summer weight cotton dress for $5 dollars, cute and detailed with bows stitched onto safari style breast pockets above an empire waist. The secret’s out, the Hip Kingdom is ‘the’ place to shop these days.