Style Profile - Ms Shangrila - Fashion Design Student - Bangkok, Thailand
Updated: May 25, 2020
From the age of 13 Ms Shangrila was a committed fashion enthusiast. Inspired by Japanese Manga & Punk and a devotee of the late Lee Alexander McQueen, read her exhilarating story from misunderstood Thai teen to inspirational Alternative Thai Youth Style icon by way of London and Paris.
Never willing to compromise her personal style, vision and aesthetic, read on to discover her story into fashion, her trips to Seoul Fashion Week and pilgrimage to Lee Alexander McQueen's grave and how her persistence and dedication to her dream has led to living in Paris to study for a Masters at the acclaimed Institute Francaise de la Mode.
When did you become interested in fashion?
Since I was a little kid. Firstly because of the Manga I read when I was young. I was inspired by female characters, I wanted to be cool, fearless, and confident just like them. I loved the way the characters were not feminine in the way young girls are “supposed to be”. At that point, how I looked was a way to express what I thought. My interested in rock music led to an interest in punk rock fashion. I was straddling that tiny line between music and fashion.
What are some of your earliest fashion memories?
I remember at the age of 13, trying to sew myself a jacket. It was ridiculous, but super fun. I bought some fabric and pictured the pattern in my mind without a pattern book or anyone to teach me what to do. I basically made it all up and the result was ridiculous - a “sort of” jacket made out just from squares fabric! My stitching was really bad and messy, but I did actually wear it for a day.
How has your style developed over the years?
There’s always so much going on, especially over the last year which I spent in London. As a kid, I was a Punk. Not the British kind of punk, but a Japanese influenced punk. I feel like that was a time that I was purely me - completely in touch with my inner self.
When I was young I had no thoughts or feelings on how people looked at me. It felt amazing to just put on the clothes I felt confident in. Fast forward a few years and I realised people were looking at me badly. I wasn’t a kid anymore and people back home in Bangkok didn’t seem to consider it appropriate to see a grown-up wearing in these kind of clothes. I started to succumb to the social pressures of fitting in and completely went against my feelings and tried to become a kind of “normal young lady”. Looking back, that was a stupid time - It was never me. The thought makes me feel quite uncomfortable - like I was someone else.
Fortunately as I got older, my confidence returned and from that point onwards I have never again cared what anyone thinks of my style or the way I dress.
What are your main fashion influences and inspirations?
I’m inspired by rock and the punk movement. It’s a bit weird because it wasn’t a direct influence from UK and US punk and rock but from Japan. I was too young to really understand the full history and legacy but the final outcome was me, a Thai girl, interpreting Japanese Punk styles who in turn had created their own spin on UK and US Punk.
With that in mind, my surroundings were as far removed from Punk as you could imagine. I was studying at the Bangkok Royal School for Girls. An interest in Rock Music was not considered appropriate for a “high class girl”. I could’t rip my jeans, my tights, sing or scream!
Escaping to rock gigs in Bangkok was not an option until I was older. Even then I had to change my clothes back to my school uniform and braid my hair after the show. The punk world I dreamed of always seemed very far away from me. Being able to act out as Nancy at a Sex Pistols gig, Pussy Riot, swear and be blunt or wear a Vivienne Westwood “Breasts” T Shirt seemed an impossible dream. So I started looking up to these people - people who say whatever they want, wear whatever they want and when they want.
I started collecting some pieces by Vivienne Westwood. At first it wasn’t to wear it - I just felt happy owning it. It took me quite a while to start wearing it - to play around under the societal rule. But the big turning point came when I arrived in London. I became completely fearless in what I wore.
When did you change from being a ‘fashion lover’ to someone who engages with the Fashion World through blogging and designing?
I was very young. I made my first blog in 2009 when I was 13 years old. I really enjoyed talking about outfits and fashion styles. I was influenced by Tavi Gevinson. Also my passion in design is started at the early age, so together with the influence of music I felt excited to create fashion, as much as to consume it.
I enjoyed blogging as a diary, I’m happy sharing my stories with people. Then I developed by combining my interest in fashion and was inspired by Tavi to be more professional. I also admire Susie Bubble in the way she visits the brands and discusses the vision of each designer - so I started to make my own.
Originally I wrote about general fashion, brands I liked and the clothes I was wearing. A few years ago I started to use You Tube. My reason was that people seem to have an idealistic vision of what a fashion designer does. I want to show the real life of someone involved in fashion design - their thoughts and feelings.
I want to show the world from my perspective as a fashion student who is in the process of entering the fashion arena. I enjoy engaging with people and sharing the life I live. I have many followers who are struggling with how to express themselves or how to choose their pathway in life. I want to encourage them by showing them my pathway.I want to show people that they have possibilities and choice.
What else can you tell us about your journey from Bangkok Fashion Fan to studying at London’s Central Saint Martin’s to a Masters in Institute Francais de la mode in Paris?
I wanted to be a fashion designer since the age of 9. I know it’s sort of weird, but that is how I felt. I fell in love with it and I don’t know how to be anything else. I’m obsessed to the core. I enjoy seeing people feel beautiful and confident in what they are wearing. I first started with sketching some pictures and asking local machinists to sew it. It was so expensive for me as a young girl so I began to make my own designs come to life. I was 13 when I went to buy cheap fabrics and sew garments. After a spell of making a ridiculous clothes I decided to read some books on the subject and try to study fashion by myself. That’s how I built my roots as a designer.
You are also a keen film photographer. Where does that fit in to your story?
My father was a photographer when he was young. He has a collection of cameras which I loved playing around with when I was young. But the digital ones never interested me. They felt kind of dull - I fell in love with the idea of analog cameras. I was drawn to the idea that everything about them takes time. This love extends to vinyl records and all things had crafted. Maybe it’s because I’m living in the fashion world when everything seems fast.
Photography is a thing I do to escape my reality, especially being in the dark room when you mix all the chemicals and “the magic happens”. It’s so wonderful and a time I feel very calm.
I started photography more seriously when I arrived to Central Saint Martins, and realised that my photography skills can be very helpful in my work. No one can interpret the things in your head as well as yourself, so I am the perfect photographer I’m looking for. Also, I had the chance to be the photographer for various CSM projects including a Mexican artists society. I found it very interesting to get to know each individual person or project, and expand the vision you see each of them through the camera. I’m very impressed with that ability. I didn’t plan to be a real photography yet, but I really have fun with it at the moment and still wanna keep it as my comfortable space.
Who are your favourite designers?
Lee (Alexander) McQueen of course! I may sound like a cliche answer be he seriously inspired me. Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano or Dilara Findikoglu are also influences but no one inspired me like Lee. He was fearless. I loved his attitude towards fashion. He completely changed the way I see fashion. His work is a culmination of so many feelings. The work I respect the most in the fashion industry are designs that give some meaning. It doesn’t really need to change the world - just give the wearer and they people who see the garment a positive feeling.
I think in the fashion industry right now, everyone seems kind of dull, we are getting numb because of how fast the industry is. We have so many designers. The industry seems to champion a designer every day.
New clothes appear so frequently, many of which are beautiful, but not all luxury clothes have meaning. So the ability to really make people feel something and have great memories is the greatest feeling of all.
You studied fashion in Thailand before coming to the UK. You have also spent a lot of time at Seoul Fashion Week. How is the attitude towards fashion design different in Thailand/Asia to UK/Europe. Is there a different overall feeling?
Super different! It’s kind of a different world. Fashion in Thailand has nothing to do with what I am. I feel that back to my hometown people are scared of dressing up. There are so many rules and so cultures restrictions. Body shaming and people judgement is very very strong. I feel like the perception of dressing up in Thailand is to simply look wealthy and I hate it. We seem to follow trends 2 or 3 seasons after they have passed over individual self expression.
That said, there are still plenty of cool people dressing up nicely and wearing styles they are happy with which I really respect. I feel that for Asians, beauty standards are regarded as most important. Dressing up is just part of this and is generally safe fashion with no experimentation and that’s boring to me. People in the UK seem happier to mix styles up. There’s much more variety in personal style - I wish that was more the case in Asia too. Thai people should give each other space to experiment with themselves, appreciate their appearance, and enough space for people to breath.
Fashion as an Industry and Fashion Weeks have grown massively in Asia over the last few years. What attracted you to become a regular visit to Seoul, over other Asian fashion capitals like Shanghai and Tokyo?
Seoul fashion week is the biggest one in Asia. It’s very popular with both Asian youth and the press - including in Thailand. My 1st visit to Seoul was the 1st time I had press attention. It was also a great opportunity to see the work of many Korean designers who I had been following from their early days - people who’s fashion story was growing along side mine. It’s great to see a designer you have been following come to the stage where they have their 1st show. I’m also interesting to go to Tokyo Fashion Week, but sadly I’ve not yet had the chance.
There was a time when “Asian Fashion” was generally seen by the West as Japanese fashion. However in the last 10 years more focus has been on Seoul with Shanghai catching up too.
As someone outside the Korea-China-Japan loop, but still Asian, how is Asian fashion seen from a Thai perspective? Are fashion kids in Bangkok more interested in what’s going on in Seoul these days?
Fashion in Seoul has a huge influence and effect on Thailand these days. I can’t see any other country rivalling Seoul’s huge impact on us for now. In the previous decade it was Japan but I guess the time of Japanese influence is kind of over. The effect Japan had on Thai youth culture will never disappear but for the youth these days, it’s all about Seoul.
K-Pop and K-music is a huge influence. We crave to dress like the stars and idols and even live like them. Whatever people wear in Seoul, you will soon see it in Bangkok. There’s almost no different in Korean youth fashion and Thai youth fashion now. Even cafe’s and restaurants are starting to look like Seoul little by little. And I don’t think its only impact is Thailand but other countries both in and outside of Asia. K-Culture shows no sign of slowing down and we will feel its influence for some time.
Why did you choose London as the city to further your fashion studies?
London always be in my plans. Not just as as a place to study but somewhere I want to live. Not necessarily London but I’m drawn to the UK.I love the vibe of the country and its people. Sometime I just feel like it’s my home. The London fashion scene is so unique.
I want to live in a place where I can be my natural self. This is the foundation for producing my best work. I feel relaxed in London. Studying in London gave me a lot of space to grow and develop as an individual which encouraged my creativity which I found is the most important aspect of fashion and art education.
How did your creativity and design skills develop in London?
I first came came to London for a short course in Tailoring at London College of Fashion. When I arrived I was so shy. I didn’t know how to express myself. I knew what I liked and was in touch with my taste but I was scared to express it.
The big change in my life came when studying at CSM. It sounds funny but it was the first time in my life that people told me, “your style is interesting.” My professor completely changed the way I think of myself. I was given so much space to explore myself and they are very open to the possibility of the person you can become. I spent the whole year trying to understand myself and unlock the skills and ability I can provide. I started dressing up, embracing my crazy side and doing all the things I was scared of. I totally changed. It was such an amazing experience at CSM.
Other than what you learned at University, was London an inspiring city?
London is the place if you looking to make a statement. It’s such a mixed international city full of variety. It is easy to feel settled or fit in when the place is full of freaks. When I was in Thailand people said I look ugly but when I moved here I was given so much respect. When people say you are beautiful every morning you start to believe it. I use to be the girl walking down the street looking at the floor because I hated men cat calling me but now I’m that girl who walks confidently and is ready to say “fuck off”, when people are not happy to see what I’m wearing.
How did the move to Paris happen?
I’m studying for a Masters in Women’s Wear at Institute Francais de la Mode. There is an emphasis on preparing you as a designer ready to join a fashion house or launch your own brand. CSM allowed me to understand myself through experimentation. Now I want to learn how to be more professional and in my approach to high standards of production. The potential offered by being in the home of the fashion industry offers many possibilities.
I was very much at home in London so moving to Paris is a new challenge and big step of me as a person. Paris is a place people always dream of. It’s seen as “The Birthplace of Fashion” so I am aiming high to the best of my ability.
What are your hopes and dreams in the fashion world?
I would prefer fashion world to be more kind and world friendly. We are such a big industry that impacts on so many things. I would love to see us become more sustainable and more kind to the planet. It would be nice if the product we consume not effect on natural resources or even help on the sustainability of culture and people. I would love to see the young designer raising up and see possibility of fashion in the future when we have more options in the individual.
After graduating, I would love to set up my own label. I want to create the styles the of people I aspired to become when I was younger. Hopefully, I’m able to make it in London or Paris as there seems to be more potential to make it big rather than Asia or Bangkok, but who knows. It could happen anywhere.
Are you fond of any Thai designers?
Yes, I have some designer I’m having an eyes on. Such as Sretsis which seems famous now in Japan. They are very good on using materials and produce well made garments. A new brand like Shone Puipia from a young designer who just graduated from Antwerp is very interesting to me. He incorporates really interesting uses of colour and silhouette into his designs. I would like to see this man take a lead role in Thai fashion industry. Hopefully I will see him develop into a well known and successful business man. Also I would like to see some small brands such as Grofe that specialise in using second hand clothes to create unique garments and bags become more worldwide.
Where do you find unique clothes in Bangkok?
My favourite place to go is a second hand store called Shinjuku. They have a couple of shops around Bangkok. They stock all types of clothes from T-shirts to tailor made suits. Everything is sold by weight, so it’s super cheap and there always seems to be a great selection of well made and interesting stock. I really hate clothes are not well made with poor stitching or bad quality of fabrics, so I prefer second hand or vintage.
What do you miss most about Thailand?
Food and nice beaches. The thing that I really cannot escape is the fact that Thailand has so much amazing food. I try to quieten this feeling but it never goes away!
What are some of your favourite spots in Bangkok?
My favourite spot is the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles in the Grand Palace. It kind of a hidden spot in the city even though it’s in a tourist area. It’s a calm and quiet place that I visit often as there is so much interesting information on historical Thai textiles. The Library is amazing but you need to make an appointment to visit.
For relaxing I love the Tha Phra Chan area. It’s a neighbourhood area next to the main river in Bangkok. A great place to eat and drink with great views and worth exploring.
What do you like to do outside of fashion?
Mostly photography - I’m working on a photography zine. I have no idea when it will be published since it’s been delayed a while now but hopefully soon. I bought a guitar when I moved to London. I enjoy experimenting with my it. Sometimes I integrate it into performances for my fashion projects. I have written a couples of songs. They are kind of shitty but I love them so much. Maybe just like my analogue photography and fashion designing, I just adore the feeling of creating something with my own hands.
Shot on location in London & Seoul
Words & Photos by Al de Perez
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