Original Gangster: O Thongthai

Clash talks grandparents and bike culture with the Thai designer.

If you’re unlucky enough to end up in a Thai hospital – as a westerner – chances are your fellow patients will assume the accident was motorbike related, such is the transport mode’s reputation when combined with holiday makers and those hoping to ‘find themselves’.

For Bangkok native O Thongthai however, the culture formed the starting point for her debut short film, made in collaboration with director Sean Frank.

“Sean saw a photo of me on the back of a bike and wanted to explore the bike culture in Thailand, which is my favourite way of getting around,” she says. “The idea suited the collection perfectly. We did the shoot in Bangkok, my hometown; I wanted people to see where I came from.”

The collection – which marked Thongthai’s debut spell at London Fashion Week last month – is called ‘Original Gangster’, while the film takes the rather appropriate (riding bikes sans helmets!) title, ‘Ride or Die’.

“I started making jewellery when I was 15,” she tells of her introduction to the form. “I quit high school when I was 16 and always thought ‘I’m going to study jewellery design in NYC or London’, but when I moved to London I ended up on a foundation course at Chelsea College of Art and Design, and explored film and animation.”

The designer later graduated from Central Saint Martins with a degree in Graphic Design and Moving Image, however the jewellery bug never quite left: “Now I just follow my heart.” So far it’s led her to presenting catwalk presentations at ELLE Bangkok Fashion Week and Seoul Fashion Week.

Working exclusively with metal “because it’s opaque, hard and shiny, and I can play a lot with it” her work has already found a fan in Lorde, with the teenager adorning herself in Thongthai’s thick silver choker, a so-called classic of the designer’s.

Next up she fancies Kiko Mizuhara, David Lynch or John Waters joining the club, while musicians Blood Orange, Marilyn Manson, Rihanna, A$AP Rocky and Darq E Freaker feature high on the list of hopefuls too. Despite the label’s youth, several of those names aren’t far off, given the aesthetic Thongthai works to.

           

‘Original Gangster’ is a dedication to Chai Thongthai, O’s grandpa; “He taught me much about life and few universal truths. He always told me if I can dream it, I can do it. I need to work really hard: either go hard or go home.”

With his passing, her commitment to the project (and making the dream a reality) strengthened, and hence today a full collection exists. Not exactly minimal, the range is simple and uncluttered for the most part, with all accept a line of bone embellished rings smooth to touch and unfussy to the eye; each was coined with her own aesthetic desires in mind.

As the AW14 season of shows comes to an end (in Paris, today), the notion of film vs. catwalk vs. fashion is topical, almost by default. On the subject, O offers, “It’s like visual inspired music and music inspired art; film can make you stop thinking about the world outside and take you through a journey. You can send messages across through visual and sound at the same time within a minute, so I think that’s why film is an important medium for fashion.”

Her own short, which you can watch above, was directed by Thongthai’s friend Sean Frank, whose previous clients have included Alexander McQueen, Topshop and Nike. A single encounter with his website will tell you he similarly favours a darker tone, hence the use of Darq E Freaker’s ‘Psychosis’ as the film’s soundtrack: “It’s a bit dark and twisted but not too dark.”

Working with Frank on her home turf was a positive experience, naturally, and she concludes, “I’m really happy with how this film has turned out.”

Words: Zoe Whitfield

www.othongthai.com

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