Skirts made from bamboo chicken cages and billowy dresses crafted from mosquito nets-a Thai teen is elevating everyday items of rural life to the catwalk to challenge entrenched prejudice among the Bangkok elite.
Apichet Atilattana, a 16-year-old from Khon Kaen in Thailand’s northeastern rice bowl region, launched his designs on Facebook. But on Friday night his inventive, humourous, and somewhat bizarre concepts made their catwalk debut at a fashion show in Bangkok.
His materials-bamboo rice steamers, banana leaves and hand-held fans-are loaded with symbolism in a country divided between the wealth and power of Bangkok and a rural majority who provide the backbone of the economy. “I want to show people in Bangkok that Isaan people can be creative,” he told AFP, using the name for the poor but populous northeastern region. “People in Bangkok should start thinking out of the box… They have this idea that people in Isaan are dirty, uneducated, but there are a lot who are successful.”
Apichet’s sleepy home town of Khon Kaen is a creative hub. Cannes Palme d’Or winning (2010) director Apichatpong Weerasethakul also hails from the city.
It is also a focal point of opposition to the ruling junta. The military seized power from the elected government in 2014, disenfranchising millions of Isaan people who voted for the toppled administration of Yingluck Shinawatra.
It was the second coup in less than a decade supported by a Bangkok elite who refuse to accept losing at the polls.
Politics has reinforced the sense of separation between the Bangkok elite and the people of Isaan who they stereotype as ill-educated, unrefined and easily led.
While Apichet, better known by his nickname Madeaw, is avowedly non-political, he hopes his fashion can in some way help bridge the social divide.
“I want to transform things seen as without value, useless things, into ones with value,” he said. “I had chicken cages at home. I noticed the hole, I put the cage on my body and it looked beautiful… I want to imply that you can’t judge people by how they look.” – AFP