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The voyages of Viroj Singhakul

Issue's designer enthrals fashion watchers with Incan splendour, but he's already anxious to move on

Published on October 30, 2007

The voyages of Viroj Singhakul


It's the journey that inspires clothing designer Viroj Singhakul. He has steeped himself in the rich cultures of India, Tibet and Nepal, in the charm of ethnic textiles and colourful characters and beautiful landscapes.

 Every fresh experience finds expression in his creations for the Issue label.

 At the Elle Fashion Week extravaganza in Bangkok last week, a wind from the high Andes blew through his autumn-winter collection. Viroj had been to Peru and returned home to share his adventure.

 He'd seen Werner Herzog's acclaimed 1972 movie "Aguirre: Wrath of God" - about the Spanish colonists' destruction of the ancient Inca civilisation - and set out to see the locations in Peru where the epic was shot.

 "The film is so impressive," he says. "It inspired me to discover Peru, and the charming culture there completely changed my collection."

 From the Incas, Viroj borrowed the hues of the mountains and rainforests - black, white, grey, olive green and khaki - and topped his costumes as they did, with elaborate headdresses of fur, flowers and shiny metal. There was body paint in tribal swirls as well.

 To heighten the sense of being in some far-away place, viewers at the fashion show were wreathed in incense smoke, and Turkish rap music resounded alongside songs by the German progressive-rock band Popol Vuh, who contributed to the soundtrack for "Aguirra".

 As scenes from the movie played, Viroj's parade of outfits showed him at a turning point in his career.

 Issue has matured since Elle Fashion Week's debut nine years ago. Less evident were the patterns and prints of Asian ethnic groups that had been its signature. In their place were plain fabrics, in dark tones lightened by colourful ribbons, floral motifs and stones.

 The women were in military-style greatcoats and skin-tight trousers, as well as knitted tunic dresses, sleeveless evening dresses, hooded T-shirts and knee-length twisted-chiffon gowns.

 Adding warmer colours to the collection were turquoise and navy-blue jackets over the black dresses, and the costumes were enlivened further with earth-tone leather belts and bags.

 The collection, Viroj acknowledged, is "in between" - he's clearly ready for another shift in gears.

 Among the most eye-catching accoutrements in his designs were the bright discs in the headdresses, some pulsing with electric colour, others whirring with clockwork. These, he said, "refer to my looping inspirations for what I've done in the past, while the blossoming flowers imply the newborn - my next step".

 With Viroj ready to shed the limitations on his imagination that "signature" looks impose, we might expect more ethnic patterns, but curtailed in their use and abstracted. His revolutionary spirit is what makes Issue so unique.

 "My experiences on my travels, the charming lifestyles I see in different cultures, the cult films and my passion about karma - these are the things that drive me to explore, and that's where I'll get my new ideas."

 So far Viroj has no new destination booked, but local fashion watchers will be ready to journey with him anywhere.

 Phatarawadee Phataranawik

 The Nation


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