I recently had the opportunity to write my very first magazine editorial! Although I agonised over what to write and whether it was good enough, I was pretty proud when I finally saw it printed and published.
I am also pleased to share some local Southeast Asian brands with you, Dione (again – love!) and a new one called Saigon Socialite (online shop currently under construction). Both of these brands make beautiful products and strive to mix traditional crafts & textiles into modern fashion items, thus helping to preserve the rich culture of the region.
Instead of going on and on about how great they are, I will just leave you to read the articles. Enjoy!
P.S. I have copied the text from each article to a bigger size below each section of images, so hopefully it’s easier to read.
In case you can’t read the small print:
In a modern city where tradition can be seemingly forgotten, it is often refreshing to get a taste of culture and the past. Although Bangkok is rich in history, the vibrant present state of the city is often at the forefront of our daily experiences.
A walk to work may take one past hundred year old Buddhist temples, canals carved long before there were streets and homes so old they have housed at least three 3 generations. However, these experiences are often muted by the rush of public transport, the bustle of motorbike vendors and the glow of department store windows. Bangkok is a contradiction of past and present, but is slowly getting consumed by the future.
This aversion from the past is also occurring in fashion. In a world where H&M and Zara are growing at a speed that is overwhelming the industry, Bangkok is no exception. As a country that was once home to colorful textiles and intricately designed traditional garments, Thailand is now a key player in the global industry that is “Fast Fashion”.
Although this direction in fashion may present many unfavorable aspects, the fallout hasn’t been entirely negative. Instead, the outcome has spurred a series of young designers working to incorporate traditional Southeast Asian handicrafts into modern pieces of clothing. These items are on trend, while keeping alive the artistic influence which has been driving the fashion industry in this region for centuries.
In Bangkok, one of the key influencers of this movement is a designer named Clara, the founder of Dione Collection. Dione is an accessories brand that uses modern designs and combines them with traditional Thai weaving to create clutches and bags that are both unique and chic.
Clara started Dione with a signature clutch made from premium leather and colorful pieces of blouse, hand-woven in the Pwo Karen tribe of Sop-Moei district, a rural community existing in the North West of Thailand. Getting to the Pwo Karen tribe from Bangkok involves travelling by plane, car and then boat. The tribe is so disconnected from the modern world that their traditional garment practices are still in use to this day.
The Pwo Karen tribe will typically weave 20 blouses in their lifetime and will wear each one until it is worn out. For this reason, the prints used by Dione are both extremely special and very exclusive. Not only are the clutches very limited, but every step of the weaving process occurs within the village; the thread making, dying and finally, the weaving.
By combining traditional weaving into a contemporary clutch, Clara has created a brand that surpasses that of a mere accessory label and acts as a symbol of a rich history that still exists in the rural parts of Thailand.
Since the founding of Dione, the brand has expanded from its signature clutch to include a Javanese Rattan variation, The Cosima, as well as a leather purse named Ginette. Dione can now be seen in the hands of women in almost every part of the world.
We were fortunate to catch up with Clara to teach us about everything that is Dione. Along with acquiring a vast array of fashionable information, we were honored to get to spend time with a woman who so perfectly exudes the envious quality of effortlessly chic. Here’s what she had to say:
What inspired you to start Dione?
I had this idea in the back of my head to start my own fashion company someday, but did not yet know what it would be about. I was already such a big clutch addict that the decision to go into clutches and bags eventually came naturally. After all, it is always easier to do something you are crazy about!
Then it was it. I started to design the clutches and bags that I was missing in my own closet, without looking so much into the seasonal or color trends. I just decided to do what I liked doing.
When did you first discover the Pwo-Karen tribe prints?
I didn’t really discover the print in a proper sense. I had seen it before and I guess it just stuck in my mind. When I decided to incorporate tribal work into leather, I remembered this craftsmanship and looked for it everywhere. I looked at about 30+ different Thailand tribes and around 30 more in the Southeast Asian region to find this particular one.
What kinds of things do you take out with you in your clutch?
I never carry my wallet in a clutch because I like to feel light. Instead, I’ll just keep my credit card or cash, phone, headphones, keys, business cards and a lipstick. It’s not a typical heavy weighted bag.
Which colors of Alessandra do you keep in your closet?
I own four: a black, a white, neon yellow and an oil forest green.
Where did the names Alessandra, Cosima and Ginette come from?
All these names are from people that inspired me. It’s my way of paying homage to them.
Alessandra is my first niece who was born when I started working on Dione. She is already one and a half years old and has her own clutch for when she can carry it!
Ginette is the nickname of my grandmother; she was a constant inspiration and support to my company.
Cosima is slightly different; it is a name that I liked a lot and I actually considered it if I was to have a daughter, but not sure my husband would have agreed, so instead I gave this name to a clutch!
When you aren’t busy designing new clutches, what do you love to do?
I am a Pilates and yoga addict. I pretty much practice for 1-2 hours daily. I also love to read, and discover new places or concepts such as bars, restaurants and galleries. When I can, I love to travel.
Is the print from the Ginette the same as the Alessandra?
The Alessandra print comes from the main center piece of the traditional blouse from the Pwo-Karen tribe, the bottom embroidery is then used for the Ginette.
To save your eyesight:
Eight years ago, LanVy Nguyen left behind a life of corporate finance in New York City and embarked on a journey to recover her heritage in the country of her birth, Vietnam. What she learned during this time was the importance of preserving culture, as it is slowly being lost to industrialization, given that the local artisans are being swept up to perform tasks that provide economic benefit to the new world.
With a newfound awareness of the strong need to preserve heritage, Nguyen founded Fashion4Freedom, a group of Designers & Artisans working to incorporate their dwindling craft traditions into the new markets, alongside an NGO named Design Capital who help to refine the supply chain. These select individuals are moving to improve their individual livelihood, as well as that of those around them, along with preserving what remains of their rich culture. As LanVy describes it, “We will one day dissolve, but if we dissolve and there is nothing left of the culture, what are we?”
Since the beginning of Fashion4Freedom’s journey to create an ethically conscious supply chain, they have invested half a million dollars in equipment, education, and product development, harnessed the work of 48 villages to redefine 17 different heritage crafts and thus helped over 30,000 people in Vietnam. Along with these conscious manufacturing practices, Fashion4Freedom has revived the beauty in artisan crafts with the intricately carved wooden soles Saigon Socialite.
The idea for Saigon Socialite was born during a tour of a pagoda carving facility. Nguyen was instantly inspired with the idea that these carvings “would make such hot shoes”. It turns out fate was on her side because not long after a cobbler applied to Design Capital for an equipment loan, after hearing from a Shaman that he would “meet a very noisy woman who would help him open doors”. Nguyen was quick to convince him to work with her, to use traditional pagoda carving to create some of the most beautiful wooden soles any of them had ever seen.
Over an 18 day period, the craftspeople work on the carving and then combine it with French leather to create the shoes of Saigon Socialite. During the first 12-14 days, the wood is blocked, baked and carved into the chosen designs. The preceding two days are filled when the cobblers form the leather and attach it to the base. Finally, the shoes are returned to the carvers who wax the wood and apply a varnish made out of local oils.
During this entire process, the craftspeople adhere to their cultural beliefs by using carvings that are symbolic, but still appropriate to be used in shoes. For instance, the 4 tailed dragon used for Pagoda’s themselves was reduced to three tails which often frequent doorframes. In this way, the carvers are staying true to their culture, while providing the quality of product Nguyen is after and ultimately finding a way to document their traditional crafts. After all, this is how Saigon Socialite began, as a way to ensure that “a hidden culture survives and is recorded”.
Currently, Saigon Socialite limits its production of shoes to 2,000 pairs per year. Once these are complete, the carvers and cobblers will spend the remainder of their time contributing to the local community. Whether this is making shoes for villagers or teaching others their crafts, they use the resources provided to them by Design Capital and what they’ve learned from Fashion4Freedom to help further improve the lives of those living in rural Vietnam.
What Fashion4Freedom and Design Capital has given these craftsmen is the backing to perfect their craft, the resources to sustain a business, the ability to support those around them and finally, a means of ensuring their culture and craft continues to thrive in the beautiful soles of Saigon Socialite.