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Publication Date : 17-01-2013
Fashion brands Soda, Theatre and Tango look back on their shared history at Bangkok's Siam Centre
Shoppers are pouring into Bangkok's Siam Centre, thrilled to have their favourite shopping mall not just back in business and bigger, brighter and infinitely more modern than in its past incarnation.
Retailers are happy too and no more so than up on the third floor where many of Thailand's homegrown designers kicked off their fashion careers.
Three of the oldest and most popular brands - Soda, Theatre, and Tango - are especially pleased to be back together again, not least because they are more than just old friends. Soda was the first to open on the third floor and it gave birth to Theatre. Tango, which popped into life later, is another favourite son.
When Soda Pop opened its doors on Aug 29, 1979, not even the trendiest teen had heard of the brand. Created by Maynart Nantakwang, the small shop started by selling t-shirts screened with images of fruit.
"I was only 24 years old and embarking on a really challenging career path. At that time Bangkok had only Siam Centre and Rajdamri Arcade and they were the only hip places to buy trendy fashion gear. I didn't know if I'd sell any of my tees but I wasn't afraid. I was really excited and since my mother was the editor of Lalana Magazine, I had great support. And the first month, my clothes sold like hot cakes. Those memories continue to encourage me today," she says.
Sirichai Daharanont, founder and creative director of Theatre, says he wouldn't have considered opening his shop anywhere else but on Siam Centre's third floor. "I worked as a sales clerk for Soda for eight years and this is where I felt most comfortable," he says.
"Back then, Bangkok wasn't anything like it is today. There were not as many shopping spots. Siam Centre had a variety of lifestyle shops - gift shops, tailors, florists and more. So when I opened my own fashion house here, I felt relaxed and of course, I had great support from those I consider as my brothers and sisters on the third floor. They came and cheered me up on my first day."
Tango's owner Chaiyose Pechdasada recalls how, after he'd been working at Theatre for a few years, Sirichai told him bluntly it was time he opened his own shop.
Over the years, the three veterans have been joined by other Thai designer brands, turning the third floor into the centre of trends. Such is the prestige that even new generation designers prefer to have their flagship stores here. The new look floor is currently home to three generations of local talent. Among the first group are Flynow, Soda, Greyhound, Senada Theory, Theatre and Tango.
The second generation include Kloset, Issue, Tube Gallery, Disaya, Sretsis, Manchu's, Playhound, Vatit Itthi, 27 Nov, ABNormal and Olanor while among the "grandchildren" are Milin, Curated by Ek Thongprasert, Painkiller, Wonder Anatomie, Yuna, Kwankao and Khem Issara.
Soda, Theatre and Tango have not just remained popular with their initial customers but they are now designing outfits for the grown up kids of those clients.
They've expanded too, with Soda now boasting four branches: Baking Soda is in Siam Centre, Soda Eco Pop makes its home in Central Plaza Lat Phrao, Soda No 7 is part of the Emporium department store while Soda Free Me is tucked away in Central World.
"Maynart (formerly known as Duangta) is the only designer and does all the styling," says manager Duriya Sridaranop.
"Soda offers a full wardrobe for women and men, as well as accessories. We haven't presented a fashion show for a long time because our designer prefers to concentrate on the shops. But we still have two main collections a year and our customers can see new product designs every three to four weeks. Maynart even does the window displays. None of our stuff can do it like her. It's amazing how she's able to draw customers to the shop."
Soda is well known for its fused punk, rock, and hippie style with a touch of handiwork creating energetic, free-spirited yet surprisingly classic designs. The skull has become a symbol of the brand and lace is a prominent fabric. Maynart also offers a "look book" of her mix and match style but stresses this is meant as a guide only, encouraging customers to have fun with their own individual taste. Her style and flair have earned her the reputation as Thailand's Vivienne Westwood.
Theatre, on the other hand, is known and loved for its exclusive designs and neat tailoring. Sirichai's emphasis on men's wear and his fashion shows have earned him an international reputation though he prefers to stay away from the export side of the business.
"Thai people consume fashion much more than before and the opportunity for young aspiring designer to enter the industry is easier. Young designers should love what they do, set high standards as well as concentrate on the details," Sirichai adds. "The nature of making clothes means there is something to fix all the time. Fashion may seem beautiful in its outcome but the process of creation needs care. I've cared about my design and my neat tailoring for the past 23 years.
"I also think Thai fashionistas are very lucky that they can enjoy designs in such a wide range of styles at affordable prices."
Tango, which turns 18 this year, is a long-time favourite of the Japanese, who consider a Tango handbag as an artwork. "We have a strong and clear character and we don't really adhere to fashion trends. We love doing leather patchwork and handicraft. The creative director of my design team says doing a Tango handbag is like cooking. It depends on your mood and tone. The taste of the food you might sometimes want to eat can be a little salty, a little hot or a little sour," says Chaiyose.
Like Soda, Tango doesn't present its designs at fashion shows but prefers to keep a low profile, Fans, though, immediately recognise a Tango bag. Chaiyose says he'll leave the fashion shows and the future of this brand to his new rising star, daughter, Nongwinee, a graduate of London's Central St Martin school. For now, he's busy concentrating on his new brainchild, Mr Tango, an accessories line for men.