Saturday, September 22, 2007

Yellow with respect


AT BANGKOK’S exclusive shopping mall, the Erawan Mall, a 33-year-old fashionista sported a yellow polo T-shirt which is the quintessential uniform for Thais on Monday.

To those who can’t differentiate between Kevin Kline and Calvin Klein, Wasu Manomaiphibul was wearing one of those ubiquitous yellow fever apparel sold in a talaat (Thai for market).

However, a fashion buff would note the minimalist design of Wasu’s polo T-shirt. And if you looked inside the back collar, you would see a gold foil print with the proclamation “Long live the King” and a “ck Calvin Klein” label.

Designer wear such as ck Calvin Klein and A/X Armani Exchange have stitched themselves into the yellow fever infected Thais since June 2006 when the kingdom celebrated the 60th anniversary of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s ascension to the throne.

Months after the grand June celebration, Thais are still feverish – especially on Monday – over yellow T-shirt or shirt bearing the royal emblem of Rama IX, the world’s longest-reigning monarch. Yellow because the king was born on Dec 5, 1927, which falls on a Monday, a day Thais traditionally marked with that colour.

Wasu, a senior manager with Club 21which represents almost 30 brand names in Thailand, does not see the yellow phenomenon as a fashion statement, but a way for Thais to show their respect and love for their King.

And at the end of last year, to commemorate King Bhumibol’s 80th birthday, Club 21 approached eight designer labels – A/X Armani Exchange, Comme Des Garcons, ck Calvin Klein, Diesel, DKNY, Marni, Mulberry and Paul Smith – to design and produce a limited-edition yellow collection exclusively for the Thai market.

“It was a very good opportunity for us and our labels to show our respect and love for the King,” he says, adding that this year, the company is also celebrating its 12th year in Thailand.

The result: designers based in fashion capitals such as Milan, Paris and New York paying homage to a Thai street fashion.

Comme Des Garcons (a high-end Japanese brand which in French means ‘like some boys’) picked a colour (of course, bright yellow) that it has never used for its classic shirt. Printed on the front pocket of the shirt which retails for 11,900 baht (RM1,294) is “80”.

The designers at Paul Smith created a 4,900 baht (RM534) T-shirt with the print of 80 cameras on the front. During the designers visit to Bangkok, they noticed many photographs of the King Bhumibol clutching a camera and in their research found that the King is an avid photographer.

What’s Wasu’s take on the collection? The designers, note the fashionista, have stamped their brand’s identity on the yellow fever.

For example, he explains, ck Calvin Klein stands for minimalist and the designers created a very basic polo T-shirt with the proclamation “Long Live the King” hidden at the back of the collar.

Paul Smith design always comes with a twist, says Wasu, “that is why at the back of the T-shirt, the designer came up with a special label in gold embroidery which declares “80 cameras for the King”.

The most paeng (Thai for expensive) item in the collection is Mulberry’s ochre-coloured Bayswaters bag. Inside the 45,900 baht (RM5,000) bag is a metal tag embossed with “Long Live the King”.

The response to the limited-edition collection has been overwhelming since they went on sale on Aug 9. For example, all the 200 DKNY bright yellow nylon bags (5,900 baht or RM640 each) have been sold out.

There is a demand because each label has its own loyal customers, explains Wasu, adding that the collection also celebrates their love for the King.

When asked what was so special about the 1,990 baht (RM217) A/X Armani Exchange yellow T-shirt (with “Long Live the King” on the front and at the back the Thai flag) as it looked like a copy of a yellow T-shirt sold at a talaat, Wasu was stumped.

But the fashionista quickly recovered and declared: “At the end of the day with A/X Armani Exchange, it is all about the brand.”

“It’s a fashion item that compels you to walk into the store and buy it. And you can buy this T-shirt only in Thailand.”

(Published in The Star on Sept 22, 2007)