Fashion designers have always been obsessed with youth. They parade teenage models down runways, favour millennials over boomers and fall all over themselves to court the latest fresh-faced Hollywood stars.
Not Philip Huang—his closest collaborators are grandmas. “It was April 2015, and we went on this road trip to find the indigo grandmas,” recalls Huang. He had recently left his home in New York, where he had enjoyed a successful modelling career, to relocate to Bangkok with his wife, Chomwan Weeraworawit, a co-founder of creative consultancy Mysterious Ordinary and an expert on intellectual property in the textiles industry.
The couple had long been intrigued by how clothes and colours are made, having attended indigo dye-making workshops years earlier, and so were intrigued when they started hearing stories of communities in Thailand’s northeast province of Sakon Nakhon that specialised in making the pigment. “We didn’t have any [work] in mind when we went on the road trip; we were just curious about this blue colour and where it comes from—and I wanted to see more of the country,” says Huang. Weeraworawit adds: “We did a bit of research, printed out a list of villages, and just dropped in on them—it’s about 13 hours’ drive from Bangkok.”
As soon as they arrived, Huang and Weeraworawit fell in love with the place. They threw themselves into learning the techniques used by local craftspeople to make indigo and hand-spun silk and cotton, and they found themselves returning to Sakon Nakhon and the broader Isan region every few weeks to experiment with materials with anyone who would welcome their ideas, although that was not always the case.
“Villages are dyeing collectives, where there’s always a head grandmother,” says Weeraworawit. “We were very lucky to find one grandma who was really experimental in her own approach. In other villages, we’d suggest things like working with cashmere and they’d say, ‘We would never contaminate our batch with cashmere’. Whereas this grandma was like, ‘This feels nice, let’s try it’”. Within a year, the couple had founded their own label, called Philip Huang, a collection made in collaboration with Sakon Nakhon’s grandmas. Huang designs the clothes, while Weeraworawit oversees branding and the creative direction of campaigns. In January 2017, the couple presented their first collection in New York.
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