JIM THOMPSON - A BLESSING IN DISGUISE - THAILAND
A few years ago, I was called to hold the position of Art Director at Jim Thompson, a Fashion & Interior brand based in Bangkok - Thailand.
During the 1950’s and 60’s, Mr. Jim Thompson with his fine eye for beauty had propel the then, dying silk tradition of Thailand back to the path of fame. Well after his mysterious death in Malaysia's Cameron Highlands, the brand embarked in decades of undeniable fashion and interior success polished by years of marketing around Mr Jim Thompson life myth and mystery.
Shoveling through the racks of vintage collections, i traveled back to the Bangkok of the 50’s where he lived his flamboyant lifestyle in a traditional Thai house on the Klong - now made into a museum. His presence still palpable all around, table dressed in the dining room as if guests were expecting to walk in for an other of his famous parties. The clink of cocktail glasses, the air charged with the intoxicating perfumes of the garden tropical flowers mixing with the vapors of alcohol, the silk caftans floating in the breeze on the golden tan of women’s sweaty skins, the buoyant silk drapes shining under the lantern lights and illuminating the night…
I loved every minute of the life he had left behind, a world of fantasy for ever buried in the past.
Thailand, Vietnam, Burma, Laos, Cambodia share the same tradition of weaving and I could pretend, I started my weaving journey at Jim Thompson in 2016 in his mostly abandoned factory in Issan province, a northeastern region located on the Khorat Plateau and bordered by the Mekong River with rich, secular traditions of food, craft and agriculture. Even though Vietnam has an interesting hand-woven heritage - mostly from minorities - I never really looked into it since I was more drown toward hand-embroidery for SONG , the brand I curated for over 20 years.
Hand-embroidery work shops around Hanoi, I once worked with, have all faded away. Villages have become suburbs and the younger generation all gone to surrounding factories, dreaming of a better world. Gone are the skills that could have been passed on by our SONG brodeuses.
At the same time, I saw similar thing happening at JIM THOMPSON and its phantom Pak Thong Chai factory. The products they sell the best are imported goods from India or China. The weavers became obsolete and the factory a burden.
My point is not to criticize but to reflect on what is truly “Luxury”?
HERMES, VUITTON, D&G and the same are competing with ZARA, H&M, UNIQLO and the lots, using the same weapons, the same marketing tools while forgetting the true soul of “luxury”.
Few years later and with this amazing chance that seems to take my life on an incredible journey, I started working with a Japanese philanthropist and the group sent me to Laos to start LAO ORGANIC, an organic company doing farming / essential oil and hospitality. From there, I embarked on a new weaving story with Carol Cassidy, the queen of Lao Textiles and the most knowledgeable lady on South East Asia weaving techniques.
My reflection continues from here - Is it possible for artisans to become the future of Luxury collections and could we imagine worldwide hand-craft traditions legitimizing luxury house existences tomorrow?
to be continued….