When sidewalks turn into catwalks
The good news is – fashion has broken free! Just take a walk down the streets of any major city, look around and you’re bound to feel inspired. But the growing popularity of the street style comes at a price, both for customers and the street fashion itself.
Street Fashion? But that’s just what real people wear in their everyday lives! It sounds uninspiring, maybe even dull. However while it’s true that many people don’t pay much attention to their apparel or simply follow the trends, there are those among us, who succeed in expressing themselves through their clothes. And not only that, they inspire others. Thanks to them, the style of the streets forces its way onto catwalks.
Like many modern trends – remember Tamagotchi or Pokemon? – It all begun in Japan. It’s on the streets of Tokyo where the unlikely meeting of “street” and “fashion” took place for the first time. Those were the days when fashion magazines only featured professional photographs of professional models. And to see in print a picture of a real person, wearing real clothes on a real street, was next to unthinkable. That’s until the Japanese made Street Fashion become “the thing”.
One noticeable name in the history of the Asian Street Fashion is FRUiTS magazine, founded in 1997 by Shoichi Aoki. The concept was simple, with each page featuring a photograph of a passer-by taken on the streets of Tokyo supplemented by a short testimony focusing on their clothes. “I got the blazer at X, the bag at Y, these are DYI pants and the earrings are second hand” etc. No labels and brands, no famous designers and outrageous prices. But what’s most important – no trends to follow. The goal was and still is to express yourself and to get noticed. To achieve that, following the herd is not an option. At least for some, at least for now.
For the street fahionistas in Asia and around the globe, it’s not the designers and fashion magazines that provide the inspiration, they find it in music, movies, videogames and subcultures. They spend their time browsing through fashion blogs, but instead of simply copying something someone else has done already, they turn dressing up every morning into a creative process. They play with forms, textures, colors and styles and simply have fun with what they wear.
I meet Nana, a student of design and an aspiring Thai street fashion blogger, near Bangkok’s legendary Chatuchak market. She compliments my necklace, I take a curious look at her shoes and we recognize our common interest in fashion at first glance. Moments later we chat over a cup of iced latte. “Chatuchak is overcrowded with tourists, ”says Nana. “Not that I mind, they don’t know where to shop anyway. This place has way more to offer than just baggy pants with elephant print,” she sneers.
Nana wears a Sex Pistols t-shirt and a bag with silver studs, “I like London street fashion, it’s very punk rock!” She exclaims. But when I ask her about the leaders of the street fashion movement, she quickly points to Tokyo with its cosplays and the k-pop inspired streets of Seoul. What about the traditional fashion capitals, such as New York, Paris or Milan? For those, she has little regard. “I feel like the street fashion there is fake. People dress to snap selfies and put them online. They want to be trendy and they all end up looking the same,” she states firmly.
Unfortunately, according to Nana, things are no better here in Thailand. “Something called ‘Bangkok street fashion’ simply doesn’t exist. People in Bangkok like everything from overseas and have nothing of their own, at least not yet”.
With that, Nana points to a fundamental characteristic of street fashion – originality. It has to come from within, be new and unique. Copying, following trends, looking-alike is out of question.
Am I disappointed with Nana’s diagnosis of Bangkok street fashion’s condition? Yes. Am I hopeless? Hell no! I continue my search for the original looks of Bangkok’s street and to find it, I meet Bond and Wow, founders of AHB or… Asshole Brand.
We meet in one of the capital’s numerous underground cafes. One look around the dim-lit interiors proves that Nana might have been wrong. There are heaps of funky-dressed people here; many look different and often stunning.
“Asshole Brand was the first Thai online street wear label,” Wow tells me over a pint of imported stout. “We started 5 years ago on MySpace and hi5.com, currently we use Facebook and Instagram. We have more and more fans and we are becoming recognizable,” he adds.
Right – growing numbers of fans and customers, recognizability, fame. But does it mean that one of Bangkok’s original street fashion brands is going mainstream? “We don’t want to go mainstream, we want to be free” exclaims Bond, the lead designer at AHB. “Of course if we could do a fashion show or a professional photo-shoot, we wouldn’t hesitate, but we want to stay underground anyway”.
His designs confirm what he tells me. They are aggressive, at times vulgar, always eye-grasping. Will the mainstream be able to absorb this naughty, not to say profane style? Not likely, especially in at times surprisingly conservative Thailand. Yet stranger things happened, especially in the unpredictable world of fashion. Especially in the age of the Internet, blogs with tens of thousands of followers, instant messaging and viral marketing campaigns, where it is becoming difficult to define what is mainstream and what is not. Even more so, when what used to be underground, is now welcome on catwalks and attracts huge price tags.
Will the street fashion be able to hold on to its free spirit? I believe so. As long as there are second hand markets out there, young designers who spend hours over the drawing board out of pure passion and people who look beyond labels and trends, it will. Bangkok, London, Tokyo? It doesn’t really matter; as long as there are free-minded people, there will be street fashion.
Thai Street Fashion
Street Fashion might not be obvious at the first glance of Bangkok’s street, crowded with a curious mix of people wearing anything from famous designer clothes to school uniforms and everyman’s daily cloaks but street fashion is alive and kicking in Bangkok. To find it, explore the less visited lanes of Chatuchak market, browse through the independent boutiques of Siam Square, pay a visit to the upper floors of the Union Mall or wait till the sun sets down and take a boat to Asiatique. When exploring Thai street fashion online, check these addresses:
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