My worse fears have been confirmed. I have returned to London, laden with two extra suitcases packed to the brim, both overflowing with things that I have picked up on my travels in Australia, Bangkok, Tokyo and China. I'm now one of those odious people who will airily say things like "Oh this old thing? I picked it up in a random market in Thailand when I went travelling around Asia" which vaguely translates to "You will never find this awesome thing I have on because I bought it in an obscure and far-flung place, which is my little secret (even if it has been frequented by a ton of other like-minded travellers)" I refer you to the Gap Yah video if you need further justification as to why emphasising that you are well-travelled can be annoying.
There's no use in me defending this assortment of wardrobe additions with the reasoning that to me, the world is getting smaller. Getting a visa for China no longer feels like the traumatic drama that it once was. A twelve hour flight to Tokyo no longer seems like an arduous ordeal. I can doth protest and say that world travel is somewhat accessible because flights are getting cheaper but alas, all of these sentiments will indeed smack of my living in a weird microcosmic world where travelling is the norm.
Therefore, I'll just have to reconcile with the fact that I have turned into one of those aformentioned world travellers. The type described in the first paragraph, who will infuriate friends with my culturally varied, bordering on culturally inappropriate wardrobe. That's another issue that is a bit tetchy. Swanning about the world picking up Miao costumes and Hmong tribe shoes and putting it all together with the singular goal of me-me-me-pleasing aesthetic pleasure is all very well but given my own reservations over cultural mining, it's still uneasy territory to be treading on.
Oh well, I'll just dive right in and BE that Gap Yah idiot that I know that I've become and get stuck into the whole "Muhahaha… look what I found half way across the world?" routine…
Brocade Country is a shop in Shanghai that was recommended to me by Leaf Greener, senior fashion editor of Elle China. It specialises in selling Miao-originated costumes and textiles. To quickly summarise (although the intricacies of Miao can be deathly complex), Miao is the loose umbrella term for an ethnic group spread out in Guizhou, Hunnan, Yunnan and other parts of China. Under Miao you have other strands of group too, resulting in regional differences of textile specialities. At Brocade Country, I tended to be drawn to the more complex, older pieces of embroidery that unfortunately meant $$$ and my bargaining skills faltered at the sweet but firm protestations of the skilled saleswomen. She asserted that pieces were unique, one-off or very old. I could be the dumbass tourist having the wool pulled over my eyes but the fabric didn't lie. Some of the pieces were indeed extraordinarily beautiful and extremely complex in their execution of embroidery, weaving or batik work.
I fared pretty well with a little bib or apron-type thing that is yet another layering device to add to the collection. It reminds me a little of the Chinese Qing dynasty soap operas I used to watch, when things got a bit raunchy and the lady would strip down to a satin embroidered halterneck (that's about as bare as it gets on Chinese soap operas though…), except this piece comes with a stiffened pleated skirt.
The shirt is from a tucked-away but nonetheless NY Times-recommended shop in Shanghai, that sells traditional indigo batik nankeen fabric goods. It was another recommendation from Leaf and definitely worth checking out just for the beautiful courtyard where yards of the fabric are hung up to dry.
(Nankeen fabric shirt, Brocade Country Miao tribe embroidered apron worn with Dries Van Noten skirt and Michael Angel x Manolo Blahnik shoes)
The inside of the apron, lined with batik is just as pretty as the embroidery on the outside…
I picked up another piece from Brocade Country in the shape of this batik robe that is elongated at the back. The sales lady was urging me to try it on and it didn't look terribly convincing on the hanger but once on, I kind of made a "Oh…OH!" sound, which made me out to be the giddy tourist shopper that stores like Brocade Country clearly thrive upon.
In Bangkok, I happed upon a real princess. Ok, there are apparently many "princess" type figures in Thailand but this "Princess" Mangmoom (meaning "spider") happens to make bags and from her latest casino-themed collection, I picked up this embroidered clutch.
Back in Sydney, Lisa Twomey, who I wrote about as soon as I met her at MBFWA, was very kind enough to a) attend my Portable talk and b) give me a jacket that she had been adorning for a month. It's bejewelled, embroidered and neon-ified to the max and seemed tailor made to all of my personal loves in detailing. This isn't a designer, who has flung some readily available clothes at me but a fledging artist, who painstakingly made a jacket to give to me, hence why I had to engage in a mahussive bear hug when she presented me with the jacket. Gifts like this make me feel like an incredibly lucky but feeble plonker, who doesn't actually deserve it, but there was nothing to do but accept it, bring it back to London and now wear it in weather, which has unsurprisingly made a turn for the worse.
At a party in Bangkok, a girl from local jewellery label Him & Her plonked a neon headband on my head and I'm grateful to her, despite my hazy recollection of the encounter the next morning (partying in Bangkok officially rules because of generous free-pour drinks…).
Finally, I can award myself a social responsibility badge as I encountered This is Not a Mall, a venture by Courtney Dewitt, a journalist/filmmaker from Melbourne, who now lives in Bangkok. Courtney has been working with Northern Thailand's hill tribes, namely the Hmong tribe (a strand of the Miao group), to encourage a sustainable cottage industry and to promote local female artisans, by commissioning shoes and garments that are being sold on the website This Is Not A Mall, with part of profits going to Thai-beneficial charities. This is Not a Mall is also selling South/South East Asian beauty products, records, Thai jewellery designers as well as the hill tribe-commissioned goods, making this site one to bookmark, especially if you aren't one of those Gap Yah kids or don't feel that travelling twelve hours on a flight is a breeze.