Amidst the ancient temples and modern souvenir stalls, Chiang Mai is a city on the rise, growing ripe with youthful culture and a broad mix of people coming here to travel and live. Walking down any given street you’ll see a hodgepodge of fashion choices, from backpackers wearing the ubiquitous printed harem pants and Chang singlets (come on guys, it’s not a uniform!) to local teens sporting the latest version of anime character Arale’s winged trucker hat, to chic young co-eds in gauzy tops and patterned leggings (regardless of temperature). While diverse and interesting, the city’s fashion palette does show a preponderance of trends, with various pockets of culture looking as though they all called each other the night before to coordinate their outfits.
Enter Warin ‘Icy’ Inthayot, one young Thai designer who has set up shop amidst the bustling Saturday night market to sell his own high-end designs at modest prices to the fashion go-getters, looking to stand out in a crowded city of style.
Born and raised in Chiang Mai, Icy graduated from The International Academy of Design and Technology in Florida, USA before moving back home to begin his career in the fashion industry. After floating around several jobs, the young designer began to teach his own craft to eager students in the area, seeking out those with the same passion for fashion he had. Eventually he set up shop on Wualai Road, an area famous for having the finest silverwork in the north, which is today becoming a haven for a growing number of small boutiques and shops. There, in 2009, Backstage Fashion was born.
At this unique fashion studio, Icy teaches classes and sells his designs, with a focus on the importance of high quality fabric, which he finds by trolling the local markets, searching for eye-catching pieces. “If my designs can make someone feel a little better, and make them feel good about themselves while wearing them, I have done my job,” he says.
Since graduating, Icy has focused on perfecting his craft, designing a new garment each week, making a few and adding them to the rack to be sold at the Saturday market. “Each week is a mixture of the old and the new, and once the season is over I start again,” he told me, noting that he tries to design the kinds of pieces that women don’t even know they want yet. “In fashion you always have to think about the future. If you design for the right now, no one is going to buy your clothes. You’ve always got to be thinking ahead.”
“Chiang Mai is a very trendy city,” says Icy. “Its youth seems more interested in the right now, what everyone is wearing and adding it to their own style. They’re not interested in the high-end designs like Bangkok is.”
When I asked what trend Icy most wished would go away, he chuckled and thought about it for a second: “The Furby.”
Indeed, a glance around the city streets reveals that the strange, furry little robot with the bug eyes and creepy voice that most of us expected to stay dead along with the other odd trends of the early 2000s has made a rather inexplicable comeback. Today, Furby seems to have taken on the status of full-fledged fashion icon, gracing everything from button-down tops to light-up key chains everywhere you look.
Icy stresses the importance of using trends as vehicles rather than being a slave to them, and his ability to think outside the box has already gotten him noticed on a national scale. He recently starred in a Thai Channel Nine television show called The Designer, which he describes as the Thai equivalent to America’s hit fashion programme, Project Runway.
For four months in Bangkok he competed against 13 other contestants for the top spot as best designer. Despite being one of only two contestants that came from outside Bangkok, Icy’s unique aesthetic pushed him all the way to the semi-finals, and he relished the experience as an opportunity to grow.
“Bangkok is such an interesting place, the centre of fashion for Thailand,” he says. “Everyone else on the show thought of me as a country boy, but they pushed me to design outside of what I know, which has helped influence some of my designs.”
Scanning the racks of his latest collection, a mixture of camouflage prints, yellow ribbons, and tweed textures come together to create sophisticated crop tops, below the knee mermaid skirts and structured garments. While these fanciful pieces might sound like the stuff of runway impracticality, Icy’s commitment to high quality fabrics and eye for detailed construction make each design look like a piece of surprisingly wearable art.
Unlike the Furby, Icy’s products speak volumes without ever saying a word.
204/2 Wulai Road
081 249 7084