Plaire Chaiphet, the winner of the first ever Swarovski Sustainable Accessories Competition, created a collection referencing her home country of Thailand, integrating culture, art and history with design.
Chaiphet sourced materials that highlight the juxtaposition of Thai society, it's future and the past, as recycled electronic components represent poverty and homelessness and the use of Swarovski crystal draws attention to the long period of the extravagant luxury of the royal family. "2200: The Royal Cyborgs" is of the most deliberate and considered collections to grace the catwalk of Truman Brewery, constructing Chaiphets's imagined sci-fi Bangkok dystopia.
We caught up with the young designer on why developing a signature style is crucial to the success of an emerging designer, how a learning curve at Kingston University taught her how to believe in her vision and work with integrity, and where she's going next.
What award did you win?
How did it feel when your name was read out?
It felt like a dream came true! It was a tremendous honour to won this award as Swarovski is a an iconic brand and the opportunity to work with their crystals have inspired me to be more innovative when it comes to creating to my own work.
Which university did you attend, and how do you think they prepared you for graduation?
I attended Kingston University. Kingston allow me to creatively experiment fashion design through many different mediums, I also took part in many professional practices; technical CAD skills, industry sponsored projects and trend prediction. Learning both creative and professional skills the course provided help me realise my weakness and strengths and how I could improve myself to become a better designer. Most importantly, I have developed my own signature style which I think is a crucial aspect to survive as a young designer and it will (hopefully) make me stand out in this competitive industry after graduation.
However, the biggest learning curve that prepared me for graduation happened to me during my final year and the making of the collection. I was facing many difficult challenges and kind of stop believing in myself in the process, my tutor, Todd Lynn, encouraged me to always believe in my own vision and do everything with integrity. The results of my work is definitely beyond my own expectation. This is the best advice anyone has ever given to me, and I will hold on to it for many years in the future.
Describe the inspiration and concept behind your work.
My graduate collection is called “2200: The Royal Cyborgs” (it was also sponsored by Swarovski). Using my birth country’s rich culture and heritage through the medium of a dystopian science fiction film, I reconstructed my own imaginative version of dystopian Bangkok future.
The collection responds to the current political situation in Thailand and the struggles of Thai people, we lost our beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 2016 which deeply affected all Thais affected the whole country not just emotionally but also economically. My collection honours the good he has done in trying to tackle poverty and homelessness. The concept of royal cyborgs was inspired by the story of the king himself, as he lost his vision in his right eye after a car accident in 1948 and had to wear artificial eyeball. We put ourselves in his shoes and imagine how hard it must be to continue devoting his life to bettering the future of our country. The collection is a combination of the future and the past, looking back to late 1800s when the reign of the 5th King was signified by the modernisation of Thai infrastructure and by governmental and social reforms, and as a by-product the modernisation of women’s fashion. I have taken my inspiration from some of the luxury garments worn by the queens and princesses of this period and reinvented the elaborate historical silhouette into contemporary eveningwear.
The line-up consist of 6 royal cyborgs characters (2 princesses, 3 warriors and the queen). The total 6 looks are accompanied with heavily embroidered statement accessories such as military sash, harness, belt and etc. For my intricate embroidery and textiles I have taken inspiration from the colourful technology aesthetic world of science fiction film; Ghost in the Shell, Fifth Element, Ready Player One and Blade Runner. To achieve the dystopian technology aesthetic I went to an electronic workshop to gather a big pile of unwanted electrical components and started making embroidery samples by integrating them with Swarovski crystals.
The embroidery design aims to represent the opposite sides of Thailand, recycled electronic components representing poverty and homelessness and on the other hand Swarovski crystal will represent the long period of the extravagant luxury of the royal family. Being shortlisted for this competition gave me the second opportunity to work with Swarovski crystal and make another statement accessory that truly represent the whole concept. The winning accessory, “The Royal Cyborg Crown” was made from Swarovski bicone beads and cosmic ring, recycled integrated circuits, crimp connector, cartridge fuses and 15 hand-embroidered cyborg eyeball, it is an additional piece to the collection which was carried by the cyborg queen down the GFW catwalk. Most pieces from my collection also glows under ultraviolet light, in the dark and reflects to flashlight.
Additionally, I would like to thank GFW and Swarovski for the opportunity to shine a light on Thailand and its heritage and display the collection to the international audience, I hope Thai people will also be proud of this collection.
What one thing would you recommend our readers do whilst at the event?
To look through student portfolios as it shows their whole design process, their hard work, what’s inspired them and who they are as a designer.
What do you plan to pursue now, and where do you hope to be in five years time?
I made and designed everything in my collection including garments, accessories, socks and shoes so I feel like I can design anything and I don’t want to limit myself to just one aspect of fashion. I plan to take a year or two out and gain more experience in the industry and discover myself a bit more, then I want to study MA in either womenswear, textiles or even jewellery! But I am mostly expecting the unexpected.
If you could give one piece of advice to yourself in first year, what would it be?
I would tell myself to spend the whole summer interning! When I was in first year I remember being quite clueless about the fashion industry and it was not until I interned with Faustine Steinmetz that realised that there is a lot of hard work, time management and teamwork behind the pretty picture on Instagram.
I was there for only 1 month but I have learned a lot of new hand sewing and textile technique. So if I could turn back time I would spend whole 3 months interning. I think gaining real experience from the industry is as important as learning from university. After 2nd year I spent 3 and a half months being an embroidery intern at Julien MacDonald and it was one of the best experiences that happened to me as a fashion design student. I am so grateful to be involved with the design process and learned what goes into making 1 collection. Never wasting time sitting in the sun!