“I don’t know what outsiders think of me and I also don’t have much interest in changing their minds… I only care about those closest to me – my family, my loved ones,” shrugs Anisha “Pam” Attaskulchai. She is sans makeup, fresh-looking, content, well-rested and utterly at ease in the dining room of her penthouse apartment.
Prestige interviewed Pam over two years ago in the mezzanine just above, when she announced the launch of the last collection of Lovebird, her fashion brand. It was a decision that drew much speculation.
Pam is also one of the heirs to the Betagen family empire, which is best known for its yoghurt drink. She sits on the board of directors for the company, in charge of reviewing and guiding broad policy decisions. She stays in contact and monitors from afar, and despite her topmost role, she sees it as familial duty rather than a business role.
Her husband Jiramote “Note” Phahusutr, 35, is a respected leader at Syntec, one of the country’s leading construction companies.
Whereever Pam appeared, she dutifully donned Lovebird designs which took after much of her own taste. It was cruise-collection-meets-urban-sophisticate, a palette of muted pastels across gorgeous silks and satins, in figure-flattering, feminine pants, blouses, dresses and innovative silhouettes.
And so the closure of the brand brewed an identity crisis of sorts, at least for local media. Who, or what, is the “real” Pam Attasulchai?
Two years on, Pam admits she chafed under the constraints of being the head of her fashion line, though she remains grateful for the lessons it taught her. “Whomever interviewed me, all they wanted to ask was why I was closing Lovebird,” she says. She adds later, “And wherever I went, I had to wear my own designs whether or not I felt like it – I felt caged.”
The last time we met, Pam was completely made-up, hair and nails flawless. Her makeup team buzzed about. This time, she is just as flawless as before, barefoot and elegant nonetheless. It’s no exaggeration to say at 37, she easily passes for an undergraduate. (Which would be an absurd underestimation of her intellect – Pam holds two Masters degrees in International Communications from University of Sydney, and International Relations from University of New South Wales.)
If Pam isn’t Lovebird and she isn’t Betagen… Then who is she?
In between bites of French crepes and sips of pomegranate juice (she often dashes off to offer yet another plate of deliciousness), she refers to a diary of notes.
“When I saw you wanted to really get to know me, to talk about how I grew up, my role model – well, no other media had ever asked me that before… and I took notes!”
Pam’s paternal grandparents emigrated from China with nothing. Her “A-Ma” (grandmother in Chinese) worked doggedly alongside her grandfather to set up the family business. After leaving China, they started at zero in Bangkok – a common migrant story for many top business families in Thailand built on a solid work ethic. This carried them through as the family business, with four sons working for them, produced and sold glass noodles, tofu – and then, of course, drinking yoghurt.
“I feel grateful and lucky to have been born to this family. Right now, I feel I have everything. But during my childhood, I could sense my family was struggling – working so hard. My life wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows – even if I didn’t know it.”
Pam and her brother, “Jay” (or “Jack”) Jaksawatr, younger by just one year, grew up in the same home as their father’s siblings, as well as A-Ma and A-Gong (grandfather).
After school, the budding style maven would dress up as a Chinese empress and sashay down the runway for the entire household to admire. Or she’d be bossing her little brother around, Pam admits, rough-housing as siblings do – the two would get in such rows they sometimes resorted to fights, though as adults they grew close.
Dinner was a family affair and all in the household were required to attend. A-Gong, A-Ma, her parents, the uncles, and Pam and her brother. As her father’s siblings married and had families, they moved away, though they stayed in the business together. Meanwhile, Thai Advanced Food was established in 1991 and launched its famous Betagen drink the same year.
“Every Sunday when we’d visit A-Ma, she’d say, ‘Are you all doing well?’ She’s just happy to see we’re OK, after all her struggles. She’d tell me how even when she was pregnant, she’d spend day and night sewing, sleeping only four hours a day,” says Pam. Now, the elderly woman lives with one of Pam’s uncles, though she’s far from lonely. Every special occasion – particularly Mother’s Day – would see lines of cars parked by the house, with distant relatives and families spilling out in droves to pay their respects to her.
“She’s my role model because she’s incredibly hardworking. A strong woman. I’ve never seen anyone as strong as her. She takes life by the horns. When she came to Thailand, she started with nothing, and was always by A-gong’s side. And now, although A-Gong has passed away, she continues to carry out his will, his vision. A-Gong had always wanted her to take care of his brothers and sisters and family in China – and even now A-Ma looks after all of them.”
During Pam’s undergraduate studies at Chulalongkorn University, she lived with the fiercely independent A-Ma. The duo took care of each other. On her trips to China, Pam accompanied her – and got to know the matriarch’s quirks and habits.
“I had never had to take care of her before and I learned so much about her. She fell asleep so quickly! Then she’d wake up at 4am and call out ‘Pam, wake up, wake up… help me find my shoes!’” she laughs.
Much of Pam’s present-day values are embodied by A-Ma. Valuing family, treasuring one’s life partner, and taking care of her elders – these values came from her grandparents, transmitted through her parents and to her own family.
“When I married Note, A-Ma taught me to always look after my husband, and his mother too. We have to look after our husband’s families, like our own, perhaps even better,” she says.
Pam also credits her grandmother with a great sense of style, particularly with jewellery. She adores pieces with careful design, rather than only “big rocks”, she says. A current favourite is Cartier, both strength and beauty, durability and design. With this in mind, Pam wore the jewellery sets her grandmother gifted her for her wedding day with pride.
“A-Ma is the centre of our family. She’s completely unfussy. She’s not the type to be pleading for her family to visit. She can take care of herself entirely. She’s a leader.”
It’s not surprising to find the centre of Pam’s world is therefore husband Note. Telling the story of how they met is one of the few moments where she lights up – and it was all fated – or so she had thought.
Following a chance meeting at a hair salon where they discovered they had mutual friends, Pam began noticing a pattern: “coincidental” meetings at the Four Seasons. She didn’t pay it much heed; she was seeing someone else at the time, after all.
But somehow, each week, no matter which day she’d take A-Ma or other family members to her favourite restaurant, there would be Note.
“For two years! And during that time, I kept running into him at Four Seasons, at Shintaro restaurant, every week. Every. Single. Week. I thought to myself, is this fate?”
He would greet and wai her father as they walked past. Her family thought well of him, and not much else. The persistent gent would also ring her – just once a year – to see if she was up for an outing.
“As it turns out, he was getting everyone in his family to go eat there – every week, just to see me!” she laughs.
Finally, after Pam ended her relationship, she accepted his invitation. She fell in love with him from the first date, she says – with their chemistry. His qualities, his work ethic – and all that she admires him for – those she learned later. It was chemistry, she says, his warmth, that made her fall in love with him.
“Note’s absolutely the perfect man. I almost feel inferior. His mother raised him so well. He’s the type of man who loves his family. Self-sacrificing, consistent, hard-working, intelligent,” she says. “Just good in every way.”
“His friends adore him, too! I don’t really have many friends. It’s hard for me to hit it off with anyone, and it’s hard for people to like me!” laughs Pam. “So now I’ve ‘stolen’ all his friends – his friends have become mine too.”
The couple share hobbies as well: a love for skiing and travel. While they are planning to have a family, they don’t skimp on shared explorations. Typically, each season, they head to two or three places. They go to Niseko every year, and Pam says her current favourite ski resort is Courchevel in the French Alps. They would love to explore the best ski resorts around the world, too.
Their latest trip was to a resort-island in the Philippines. Private, clean, simple, and luxurious. Snorkeling, lounging, and general relaxing were on the radar. “I avoid the sun,” says Pam, “But I wanted to go because it’s just so beautiful there.”
Travel is her luxury, says Pam. And for Note, home décor. Much of their apartment is decorated by him, from the stuffed hawk – a quirky addition to something one could call urban gothic elegance – to a custom-made, three-tier chandelier. The duo certainly has taste to spare.
Two years ago, fresh out of Lovebird, Pam pondered a real estate project. With some investigation, however, she soon discovered a project far worthier: her body and mind.
Anyone with access to her Instagram can witness her development and expertise of her yoga practice, and see the level to which she has risen: challenging inversions, spine-bending back bends, and advanced poses galore. In hotel rooms, in mirrors, in hallways – Pam carries her practice with her wherever she goes.
For her, it’s a far higher return on her investment than a real estate development, given the current climate.
“Every breath, every moment of my life nowadays is the development of yoga. Watching movies. On an airplane. I’m thinking – how do I best sit? How do I stretch?” says Pam. She had taken up yoga practice several years ago, but had only found time to truly dedicate her life to it once she closed Lovebird. She needs inspiration, space, and the ability to be creative.
Nowadays, Pam is in her studio at least two or three hours a day, when she’s doing ashtanga yoga. Admittedly, although she is often ill, she’s doing 20 minutes at a minimum. She doesn’t wear jeans or constricting clothes any more – everything has stretch.
Yoga isn’t just about the body, says Pam. It’s about the mind, the intellect too. She takes private lessons from visiting experts and gurus. And she’s enjoying her deepening understanding.
“If I can’t do a pose, I think of every part involved, I analyze it,” she says, describing her method. “Each day, I wake up and think – what can I do to get closer to my goal of this pose? I break my body down into pieces and stretch each piece, bit by bit.”
In a moment, she’s up and out of the chair, and on the floor, demonstrating a pose.
“When I achieve a difficult pose – it’s incredibly satisfying, just beyond words. I feel accomplished.”
For her, yoga is also about art – the body is a work of art. It’s not about acrobatics, or creating the perfect social media image. And she swears she’ll never do a business for yoga – it’s too precious. It’s too much part of her identity, and she wants to keep it that way.
In February 2016, when Prestige sat down to chat with Pam, we asked her to define luxury.
She had answered, “It’s about being able to take life to the limits… being able to do something you want to do, and pouring yourself into it. Wearing what you want, travelling where you want, and fully investing in it. I like taking things to the nth.”
This year, to our same question, she replies: “luxury is rare… fine… hard to reach… hard to afford, hard to get. Unique. Sophisticated. Valuable.”
Pam is pursuing her passions and waiting for the right moment to pursue any business opportunities that might arise. She’s re-found her identity, shedding limits from the past that Lovebird put on her. Now she’s investing in the projects she believes in – family, love, yoga – for anyone in this fast-paced business world, this is luxury indeed, to the nth.
Photographer: Virunan Chiddaycha
Stylist: Panchanitch Rattanawilai
Makeup Artist: Torranit Jirasirikan
Hair Stylist: Somjate Klomnoi
Editorial Coordinator Rattanachai Chaipornsantikul
Dress: Tawn C.
Jewellery: Rajdamri Gems
Watches: OMEGA Trésor collection
Location: Bangkok Marriott Hotel The Surawongse