Fashion in Chiang Mai has evolved from a distinctive cultural heritage into modern city couture. This contemporary style owes its allure to an endowment of elegance from the artful textiles of the past. Most prominent in the 19th century, the Lanna textile industry was a thriving force that made a statement about the individuality of northern Thailand and its traditions.
Today, fashion in Chiang Mai continues to exhibit the intricate designs and bold juxtapositions that brought it past acclaim, with a modern leaning toward the avant-garde. Fashionable northern roots have given way to modern Lanna chic. Nimmanhaemin Road, the eclectic epicentre of creative Chiang Mai, boasts designers that are both original and distinctive with artistry that speaks for what the city has become.
Walking into Dollhouse automatically brings cupcakes and sweet effeminate confections to mind. From the dainty floral wallpaper to the old English style furnishings, the store evokes the idea of girly sweetness. Dollhouse owner, Suchala ‘Yam’ J. is a self taught auteur of fashions that emphasise a vintage English look with touches of modern French couture.
The store has a style all its own and speaks to the identity that her clients crave. Yam aims “to focus this style and to be different from other shops so we can jump out of the market.” Her intention is to be a one stop shop to find outfits for parties and special events. The delicate and charming frocks can be easily paired with coordinating accessories like shoes, jewellery and bags available at the store.
“The smiling faces of the clients” is all the reassurance Yam needs to continue making the ethereal designs that set Dollhouse apart. Still, she is careful to note how her personal style differs from the image she has created for the store. She has recently opened a new boutique close to Dollhouse that directly departs from the pink and pretty theme into what Yam calls “my own style of black white and grey; stuff I want to wear every day.” Her new shop called Every caters to clients who are looking for modern ready-to-wear fashions that are made for the “elegant working woman.”
Nimman Promenade, Nimmanhaemin Road, Soi 4
053 221 028, 081 993 8875
For Warin ‘Icy’ Inthayot, owner and designer of Backstage, fashion has long been an obsession. As a teenager he practised arts and crafts and relished costume making each Halloween. Gradually, that interest gravitated toward what women like to wear and how style is made individual. The culmination of this is the Backstage label; a modern and innovative concept line that illustrates an attention to detail that is reflected in the environment of the store itself.
Icy describes the Backstage experience as “what you get in a fashion show; then you take it home to make the world your runway.” The gorgeously crafted pieces include billowy dresses, structured blouses and accessories that hint at contemporary romance.
In addition to custom design and the Backstage label, Icy also teaches apparel design in a small but well appointed studio behind the store. He describes the development of his label and subsequent services as “the dream of every student when they finish training”, though this first year of business has been difficult. Still, Icy is quite content with his current situation noting, “I work hard every day. Making women look beautiful, this is my job.” The growing confidence of the new generation of fashion lovers in Chiang Mai inspires him to continue to create his stand-out designs.
204/2 Wulai Road
081 249 7084
Formerly an advertising executive and filmmaker in Bangkok, Nujcha ‘Gift’ Kraipruan of Thara opened her boutique in Nimmanhaemin Promenade last fall. The connection between film and fashion, and a desire to “make stylish clothes for stylish people” drew her into this new venture. She conceptualises complete looks using the clothing and accessories offered at her store. An obsessive hoarder of fashion magazines, Gift looks to the world of design and her travels to Vietnam, Indonesia and elsewhere for inspiration.
She was raised in a fashion conscious environment and credits her mother with being the pioneer of her artistic intentions saying, “I grew up seeing this, it’s in my genes.”
Nothing in Thara is ordinary; the designs are exclusive but still accessible in a way that redefines even the basic t-shirt. The clothing is intricate, unpredictable and always well made. In order for the boutique to be successful in the slowing economic climate, she knows that “a design has to be special, not something you can buy just anywhere.” Her customers buy from Thara because they know they will find one-of-a-kind pieces along with suggestions and advice tailored to their needs.
Gift plans to stick to the small boutique concept that defines Thara, saying, “My strength is customer relations. I want to take good care of my customers and if I make it bigger, I can’t.”
14 Nimman Promenade, Nimmanhaemin Road, Soi 4
053 289 235, 089 668 4932
Chabaa features a broad range of bohemian hippie chic styles that fall outside the realm of predictability. They are a fresh and flattering take on an always fashionable style. Store manager Yui, resists calling the clothes fashionable saying, “our products aren’t trendy; you can wear them all the time.” Chabaa was created and designed by Yui’s sister, whom the shop is eponymously named after. An avid traveller, Chabaa is inspired by her travels and love of Mexican, Indian and Tibetan cultures.
All of the clothing is handmade, with even a basic blouse taking up to two days to complete and a team of 50 manufacturing sewers for stock upkeep. Shirts, the bestseller in the line, feature blanket stitched edges and uniquely embroidered materials that give the pieces a dramatic edge.
Yui explains that the mostly Thai clientele come for “comfortable clothing they can wear anywhere”, though the store has a varied audience being on Nimmanhaemin. The possibility of opening a store in Bangkok is the latest idea to come out of Chabaa, though both Yui and her sister are closely watching the economic forecast to decide on the opening. If their success at the current store is any indication, a Bangkok location will be an easily won feat.
14/32 Nimman Promenade, Nimmanahaemin Road
053 221 824, 081 0403 222
Kome Tong Classic
Rattanaphol ‘Yo’ Taja began his career in design as an architect but quickly branched out into other forms of creative expression. His label is an experimental and eclectic blend of traditional Lanna style and progressive fashion. The designs showcase structured silhouettes that play with proportion and colour. He draws on his architectural roots as basis for his designs along with the seasonal development of themes.
Yo finds his men’s wear line easier to market than his women’s wear collection having observed that “women think too much, men are far more easy” when deciding to buy. He recently travelled to Sri Lanka and began to take interest in how the fashions of Sri Lanka and other Indian countries have influenced Lanna style throughout history. His latest collection combines elements of his interpretation of Sri Lankan fashion mixed with his modernised version of the Lanna aesthetic.
Yo’s love of “the ancient, the earth and the spiritual” serve as a basis for his inspiration, as does the recognition he has won for his work. In 2006 he was voted Northern Designer of the Year along with being ranked number one out of 40 fashion designers by the Department of Export Promotion earlier this year. He would love to open another shop, but like most business owners of late says, “I am thinking about the economy and what it will take.”
64 Chareonraj Road
053 302 401