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A mall for young designers

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Idea Market at Kamphaeng Phaet Subway station in BangkokI was ready to head back to my hotel after having walked around Chatuchak Weekend Market for the better part of the morning.

I was tired and looking forward to my hotel swimming pool, a nice cool drink and some relaxing music from my i-pod.

But when I got to the lower level at Kamphaeng Phet subway station, I was in for a surprise. And that surprise made me forget the pool, the drink and the music for another hour.

Idea Market at Bangkok's Kamphaeng Phet subway stationHere in this subway station was the entrance to an underground shopping mall. An Idea Market that is only open on weekends.

A mall especially for young designers

Some of the designers at Kamphaeng Phet already had their own shops where they sold their own lines of fashion, gifts or perfumes.

The Idea Market at Kamphaeng Phet Others, however, were just getting started and obviously couldn’t afford renting a store yet.

They had spread out their goods on the floor in front of them – pretty much like kids selling old toys at a flea market.

Some of these vendors were selling interesting stuff that they were making themselves on the spot: designer bags , jewelery, hand-sewn teddy bears or knit sweaters.

Young designers at the Idea Market at Bangkok's Kamphaeng Phet subway stationI never studied design at school, but I thought that some of those people at the Kamphaeng Phet Idea Market were pretty talented.

And the prices were very reasonable. I bought a pair of designer shorts at one men’s fashion store, which cost me the equivalent of four dollars. Can’t really complain about that…

Written by Thorsten

December 23, 2008 at 10:55 pm

Never on a Sunday

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The gho and the kira - traditional dress in Bhutan

The gho and the kira - traditional dress in Bhutan

When visitors first arrive in Bhutan, they are usually fascinated to see that almost everyone here wears the national dress.

The impression you get is that of an exceptional place, rich in tradition and unified through a particular kind of clothing not worn anywhere else in the world.

But there are two sides to the coin.

The Bhutanese don’t wear their national dress totally out of their own free will. If they could, most of them would also put on jeans and t-shirts.

Especially the kids would much prefer to look just like everyone else in this world.

But there are laws in Bhutan stating that the people have to wear the national dress when they are in school or in a shop, on formal occasions and when they are in any kind of government office or institution.

Some government offices will not serve natives who are not properly dressed. And policemen will reprimand or fine Bhutanese who are wearing western clothing in the streets.

The only time these rules seem to be more relaxed is in the evenings, after government offices and public institutions have closed, and on weekends.

When you walk through Bhutan’s capital Thimphu after sunset or on a Sunday, you’ll only see very few men wearing the traditional gho and very few women dressed in the kira.

Instead, the people then prefer exactly the same outfits that people in the rest of the world like to wear: jeans, t-shirts and sneakers.

This is especially true for the young Bhutanese.

I have visited Bhutan three times over the past four years and it’s my impression that the popularity of western clothing is increasing.

I can’t remember seeing this many teenagers in western clothes in the evenings and on weekends before.

I guess this is due to increased exposure to Western culture in the form of movies, tourists and TV. After all, Bhutan didn’t even have television ten years ago.

Who knows how much longer the authorities will be able to uphold the rules promoting the national dress if this is not what the (younger) people want?

Written by Thorsten

October 15, 2008 at 5:32 am

Grin and wear it

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Motorbikes in Hanoi, Vietnam

In Hanoi, motorbikes are by far the most popular means of transportation. There are millions of them on the streets of the city. And with the number of motorbikes steadily increasing in recent years, the numbers of traffic accidents, injuries and deaths also rose dramatically.

That’s why the Vietnamese Government made wearing motorcycle helmets mandatory at the beginning of this year. Since then, anyone caught without a helmet will have to pay a hefty fine.

Vietnamese motorbike drivers weren’t too enthusiastic about the new law – to put it mildly. They loved the feel of the wind in their hair when they rode their bikes. Helmets would crush their hairstiles. And most of all: there weren’t that many helmets to be had in Vietnam! The ones that were sold here were mostly made in China, and many Vietnamese doubted, whether these Chinese helmets would really protect them in case of a crash.Helmet store in Hanoi

Helmets that don’t make a difference

So what you see on the streets of Hanoi these days is that most people do wear helmets to avoid being stopped by the police. But the helmets they wear don’t offer much protection.

For one thing, 99 % of the Vietnamese motorcylce helmets don’t protect the chin or the face – they’re basically a plastic cap that people put on the tops of their heads.

And many drivers who wear these skimpy helmets don’t even close the chin strap that secures them to their heads. So in the event of an accident, the helmets would just go flying and leave their owners unprotected.

motorbikehelmet with textile exterior

Turning the resented helmets into fashion statements

The ingenious Vietnamese have tried to make the best of the new rule: they’ve turned their motorcycle helmets into fashion accessories.

You can see guys wearing helmets that are made to look like baseball caps. And women wear helmets with plaid cloth on the outside or ones with flowers and ribbons.

And one thing that I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world is how the Vietnamese are turning motorbike helmets into stylish hats by attaching a colorful textile brim to it.

helmet becomes hat in HanoiVendors sell these brims in many different designs, so female drivers can just attach and wear the one that best matches that day’s outfit.

Isn’t there something we forgot?

But there’s one very thing that’s unfortunately still missing on the Vietnamese market for motorcycle helmets: helmets for kids.

Children are regularly taken along on motorbike rides. Either they’re expected to hold on to mommy or daddy, or they’re squeezed between their parents.

Sometimes you’ll see whole families on motorbikes: mom, dad and up to three children.

Family on Motorbike

And even though the grown-ups will now mostly wear protective helmets, almost all the kids are left unprotected in case of an accident.

Not a nice thing in a society that adores children as much as the Vietnamese do.

Written by Thorsten

May 27, 2008 at 12:56 pm

Zippers are Really Retro

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zipper fly Every time I opened the fly of my jeans today, I was startled.

No, this is not the kind of opening sentence that leads into an article full of sexual allusions or erotic fantasies.

It’s something much more profane that I noticed today.

Every time I opened the fly of my new jeans today, I was startled by the fact that these jeans don’t have a button fly, but a zipper instead. These must be the first jeans I’ve owned in almost 20 years with a zipper fly.

Those of you who also own both kinds of pants probably know what I’m getting at: there’s a difference in how you open a zipper fly and how you open a button fly. So out of old habit, I’d rip at the fabric of my jeans every time I went to the bathroom today, expecting the buttons to plop-plop-plop open.

But with a zipper, ripping at the two sides of your fly won’t do a thing for you. Except maybe destroy your zipper or your jeans.

Wearing my new jeans today, it always took me a brief moment to realize that these jeans were different from what I’d gotten used to over the past two decades: they had a zipper-fly instead of a button-fly.

So if a button-fly is what’s normal for us now, is a zipper-fly the real retro?zipper-fly jeans

Written by Thorsten

May 14, 2008 at 9:59 pm

Happy Hair

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sign of a beauty parlor in Cambodia This morning, I heard on the radio that the musical “Hair” premiered on Broadway exactly 40 years ago today.

So if 1968 was the “…dawning of the age of Aquarius” – what is 2008? Its sunset? Or is this the deep dark night already?

According to “The Official Hair Website”, the show has been performed in countless countries across the globe, but apparently never in “…China, India, Vietnam, the Arctic and Antarctic continents as well as most African countries.”

Poor Eskimos.

40 years ago is closer than 10 years ago

I was too young to see Hair in the theaters when it first came out. My first encounter with the story was when I saw the movie ‘Hair’ by Milos Forman. I guess that must have been in 1979 or 1980.

Back then I thought the story was really dated and far removed from life at the onset of the 80’s.

The funny thing is that it’s probably closer to us today than it was in 1979.

Not only that the U.S. is once again entangled in an unpopular war. Also look at what people are wearing: psychedelic prints, frayed jeans, longish hair.

Been there, done that.

The difference between the original hippie fashions of the late 1960’s and today is that back then fashion was a political statement. These days, the torn jeans already look that way when we buy them at Abercrombie’s at an exorbitant price.

And the slept-in-hairstyle today is carefully coifed, blow-dried and gelled.

But as far as funky hairdos are concerned, nothing beats these ladies anyway.

Apsaras

They’re stone carvings of Apsara dancers at Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temple. And they were made in the 12th century.

Apsaras at Angkor Wat, Cambodia Apsaras

How’s that for avant-garde hairstyles?

Written by Thorsten

April 29, 2008 at 8:48 pm

Abercrombie & Fitch is Zeitgeist

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can I take him home? If you want to feel the pulse of NOW, go to the Abercrombie & Fitch store on New York’s 5th Avenue. I went there a couple of times last week and discovered that this place really embodies our Zeitgeist.

The first time I entered the Abercrombie & Fitch flagship store, I was pretty irritated. It’s dark in there.

There are only a few spotlights on the clothes they sell – but these spots really aren’t sufficient to judge what color the t-shirts, sweatshirts and jeans are.

You basically have to guess the exact shade or color. Or you have to drag the piece you want to another corner of the store in the faint hope that the lights will be just a little stronger there… (they’re not)

Mom will never believe these clothes are new

Ah, but what great things Abercrombie & Fitch has: jeans that are destroy-washed, t-shirts with stitched-on lettering that is artfully torn to make them look like they’ve been through a thousand washes and sweatshirts that look like a family of moths had a feast in them, so full of holes are they.

But that’s the style! And everyone wants to have it! The store was always packed whenever I visited it. And almost everyone who went in came out with huge shopping bags.Abercrombie & Fitch shopping bag

Another thing that sets A&F stores apart from places like the GAP or Banana Republic is the music in the stores: it’s loud, it’s constantly upbeat, and it’s always the same!

On my frequent visits to A&F stores in New York last week, I kept hearing the same songs again and again. Which would really get on my nerves if I worked there…

All in all, the music and the scarce lighting make A&F stores feel more like a club than a clothing store.

And don’t forget the scent: that’s something else that is unique to A&F. Go near an A&F store and you’ll be able to smell the place before you see it. The whole shop smells of the A&F fragrance, which they spray liberally over the clothes. I guess they also use it as an air freshener and make the staff put it on.

Models pose as salespeople

And that brings me to the next point that’s so NOW about A&F: the personnel. I don’t want to call them salespeople, because that wouldn’t seem quite right. First and foremost, they are beautiful people.

smooth to the touch and nice to look at I guess their most important function in the A&F store concept is to model the clothes and to make the customers feel like they would look just as gorgeous if only they wore the same A&F outfits.

One day, for instance, all the store personnel were decked out in the same gray sweatshirt (needless to say that they all looked awesome in them). When I went back to the store the next day, I noticed that the place was completely sold out of those gray sweatshirts. I guess the modelling did the trick.

Watching how they do it

Out of curiosity, I then just sat in a chair in the store’s waiting area and watched the store personnel. (The waiting area consists of a couple of lounge chairs, where stressed-out husbands, wives, mothers or friends wait while their loved ones are still lost in the dark maze of the store trying to find just the right outfit).

I sat there for a while and observed what the store personnel were doing. Or not doing. Most of them just stood in pre-assigned places, smiled at the customers and said their hellos and good-byes. And, of course, they looked amazingly beautiful.

One of the salespeople was approached by a few customers and answered some questions, another one folded a couple of t-shirts. But apart from that, they were just a decorative element of the store. What a job…

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Smooth to the touch

But the most “zeitgeist” thing about A&F must be that they have a bare-chested guy wearing a pair of A&F jeans standing in the store’s entryway to welcome customers. Pure sex. A&F even supplies a photographer to take your picture with that half-naked hunk. And you get to keep the polaroid to take home.

The polaroid. Not the model.

get the picture

Abercrombie & Fitch Casting

Written by Thorsten

April 24, 2008 at 8:32 pm

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