When Vatanika “Prae” Patamasingha Na Ayudhaya and Han Chong enter the room, there’s something about the vivacious and impeccably stylish duo that makes you want to stop and stare. Former school friends, the two have come a long way from their days at Central Saint Martins. Today, Prae has become a beloved icon in Thailand’s fashion scene — her eponymous label has been worn by the likes of Gigi Hadid, Hailey Baldwin and Kylie Jenner, and millions tune in to watch her reality show This is Me Vatanika — an unabashedly fabulous glimpse into the life of Thailand’s’ favourite femme fatale.
At the same time, Han Chong’s London-based label Self-Portrait has become a global phenomenon — an impressive feat, considering it took the Penang-born designer only six years to elevate his brand to a level that many take decades to reach. With supporters ranging from Beyoncé to social media’s It-girls, the coquettishly beautiful lace dresses of Self-Portrait have won the hearts of women across the globe.
So it comes as very exciting news when these two prominent fashion personalities decide to team up for a one-of-a-kind collaboration. Officially joining hands for the first time, the duo is set to open Bangkok International Fashion Week 2019, with their show ‘After the Lovers’. As we get excited for the surprises that surely lie in store, Prestige had a chat with the two on their thoughts. Read on below.
On their friendship:
Han claims to remember distinctly the first time he met Prae, due to her striking sense of style. Could he tell from then that she would be the fashion sensation she is today? “Of course,” he adds jokingly, “otherwise I wouldn’t have been friends with her.”
To Prae, the friendship was inevitable — “to be honest, I knew the two of us had to be friends. He was pretty much the only one who talked to me,” she laughs.
On the Self-Portrait/Vatanika woman:
The Self-Portrait woman is all about living life and having fun. Han describes disagreeing with the idea that everyday wear had to be ordinary, believing from the start that clothes could be convenient and gorgeous at the same time. “I always wanted to design for the everyday woman. She wants things which she can have fun with, and she likes to be noticed. I find it quite sad if you buy a new dress and then you walk into an event, and no one pays attention to what you’re wearing. You have to make an entrance.”
While Han designs for a woman to have fun with her life and wardrobe, Prae encourages women to be confident and dare-to-be-you. “The DNA of Vatanika would be a strong, confident woman. She would know who she is, what she wants, and she would go for it. And she doesn’t have to choose, because she believes that she can have it all.”
On combining the two women into one:
While both Vatanika and Self-Portrait have their own distinct brand DNA, the two labels find common ground when it comes to the message they want to give to women across the globe. “The concept behind this collaboration is mainly about empowering the modern woman,” explains Prae, “to let her know that she can be whoever she wants to be.”
Han agrees, “she can really be anyone, you know. She can be more like my style — a bit more feminine — or she can be more like her,” he motions towards Prae, recognised for her flamboyant, bold and alluring looks. “Modern women have so many roles to play nowadays,” he explains, “so she can be very powerful, but at the same time she can also be feminine, and we want to portray that. If you want to be playful, or like having fun, you can. Women can be everything.”
On spring/summer 2019:
Despite the innovativity and new creations, Vatanika will always be Vatanika. “The spring/summer collection still follows the DNA of the brand, so you’ll still see the pinstripes and the lace, and there will be a lot of Vatanika’s signature silhouettes. While we will be revealing a lot of signature pieces, it’s still quite visibly the Vatanika woman.”
Self-Portrait’s collection focuses a lot on summer vibes. “I always want the girls wearing my designs to enjoy themselves, so for spring/summer, I was inspired by my trip to Ibiza,” Han turns to Prae and they burst into a fit of laughter, recalling fond memories from a vacation they’d both shared. “Since starting the brand, I haven’t gone on a proper summer holiday in ages, and this is the only holiday I’ve been on in the past five years. So it was actually really inspiring for me to have spent my summer in Spain, where everything is so vivid and fun. I wanted to portray that, so it’s a lot of fun, and very airy — suitable for this kind of weather in Thailand. I wanted to make designs that can be worn in warm weather, and let women still look great while they’re enjoying their summer fun.
On teaming up:
“We’ve always had the idea to do things together, since back when we were in school,” Han recalls, “but we never had the opportunity to do it, because fashion shows are usually created by just one designer. So when BIFW approached us, we thought, why don’t we do it together because we’ve been thinking about this idea for such a long time. We thought it was the perfect opportunity and timing.”
The two had been planning a collaboration for such a long time that when the chance came, Prae explains the decision didn’t take long to make. “We thought to ourselves, ‘might as well grab it and do it — it’ll be fun’”.
While Prae says their collaboration was mostly without challenges as they know each other so well, the months spent on this project were not without fights.
“It’s actually a good thing to fight,” Han believes, “I think because we are both so passionate, we would fight for the things we wanted because we were both striving for the very best. When two passionate people work together, fights can actually be really healthy, because it means we want to make our work better.”
Regarding who won most of the time, Han doesn’t hesitate to gesture towards his friend, “ladies first, always.”
Prae might be known for her daring, flamboyant on-screen persona, but those who take a closer look will find a woman who is passionate and steadfastly driven, and at the same time incredibly humble and kind. “I am thankful to people who consider my brand a successful one, but I honestly believe that you have to keep improving yourself, and improving your designs. You have to believe in your brand, and make the effort to keep growing. If you don’t grow, and you think that the success is already there, you will never go anywhere else.”
For Self-Portrait, success stems from a dedication to the women who wear his dresses. “I find it really important to understand ‘her’, what she needs, and how she wants to feel when she puts on a dress. It’s important to empower her and make her feel really special. I think with clothes and women, there is such a personal relationship between these two. If you make women feel really good in your clothes, she would have a wonderful experience in them.”
On the future of Thai fashion:
From an outsider’s perspective, Han admits to being a fan of Thai fashion. “I’ve always liked Thai aesthetics. I think the fashion world is so global now because of social media, and as long as you have a point of view, your work can speak for you.” He takes Vatanika as an example of a local brand that managed to elevate Thai designers to the global stage. “It doesn’t matter where you are anymore,” he says, “it’s the message you send out. If you have a point of view, people are hungry for things that are unique and special.” To him, Bangkok International Fashion Week is just the first step. “You guys have such a strong style, and the country is so beautiful. I’m sure a lot of designers would want to come here.”
But how does someone on the inside view the industry? To Prae, she sees opportunity. “I think there are a lot of opportunities for the younger generation in the Thai fashion industry, to show their abilities and potential. There’s an increasing amount of support from other industries and fields, that are ready to help these young designers climb up to a global level.” She firmly believes in the potential of Thai creatives, viewing them as talented and not inferior to those of other countries.
On what to expect from their collaboration at BIFW2019:
Ever the unpredictable duo, and always up for a good surprise, both Han and Prae were adamant on not revealing any major details until the actual show. Han assures us it’s worth the wait, “you really have to experience it first-hand, but we promise it’s never been done before.”
Prae: “You have to see it, in order to feel it. Let’s just leave it at that.”
Vatanika and Self-Portrait’s ‘After the Lovers’ will be the opening show of Bangkok International Fashion Week 2019 later tonight (March 28), from 7pm onwards, at Parc Paragon. To find out more, visit FB @onesiamofficial.