Style With a Story

Mood Indigo

Designer Chomwan Weeraworawit uses indigenous craft and fashion to capture the spirit of a changing Thailand.

THE CONCEPT OF homeland encompasses culture, history, and identity. It’s a site of personal memories and visions for the future. For Chomwan Weeraworawit, home and land are creative starting points. “I seek to examine our history and tradition,” she says, “and to use it to reimagine a new aesthetic future for Thailand through the lens of art, film, fashion, food, and design.” It wasn’t until she resettled in the land of her forebearers that this intention crystallized. In the clothing brand Philip Huang, founded with her husband, the company’s namesake, Weeraworawit’s abstract ideas about home came together in a collection of relaxed and desirable wardrobe essentials.

Weeraworawit holds a Ph.D. in intellectual property law. Her research, done in the early aughts, explored how IP is used to examine geographical distinctions and traditional knowledge in textile manufacturing in developing countries. She designed uniforms based on the loose garbs of Thai fishermen for a New York restaurant, launched an athleisure brand styled with the draping techniques typical to Southeast Asia, and regularly facilitated connections between Thai chefs and artists in global fashion capitals. “I was driven by this idea about how textile and craft can be more than a cottage industry and part of a bigger cultural conversation,” she says. Yet to her, each venture felt disconnected from the others.

Weeraworawit’s “aha” moment — the convergence of her work as fashion designer, art producer, and student of law — came several years after the Ph.D. It was 2015 and she was living in New York. “I realized the side project I was developing with my husband Philip had materialized my thesis into form.” Philip Huang, the brand, she tells me, began as a shared hobby in natural dyeing techniques, incubated as the couple experimented with indigo on the roof of their Brooklyn loft. They began to apply the dye, sourced from indigenous communities in Northeast Thailand, to wardrobe essentials — socks, T-shirts, sweats — choosing to focus on an accessible product line. It sold out as fast as they put it up online.

Then the couple learned Weeraworawit was pregnant with twins, and a temporary relocation to be near family in Bangkok was “the sensible thing to do.”

The daughter of a diplomat and an expat from birth, Weeraworawit spent her formative years living between Indonesia and the U.K. She grew up in the bubble of a “weird international utopia,” she says, “where there are no borders because everyone brings something different from their culture, and all cultures are respected.” She was shaped by the West, where she was schooled, and the East, where she returned on breaks, but Thailand has always been at the center of her endeavors. “I carried my culture and its ingredients everywhere I went; in that way you represent where you come from.” Inevitably, the farther she ventured from her homeland, the stronger her connection became.


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Six years after resettling, with a growing, mission-driven business and three kids, Thailand finally feels like home again. “I started to pull the threads. Philip and I sought out artisans, immersing ourselves in pristine nature, and a way of life that is far removed from the city and resorts. This is the Thailand of the past, and perhaps the ‘real’ Thailand,” Weeraworawit says.

Combining sustainable manufacturing with pared-down, unisex design, Philip Huang products are defined by comfort. As travelers themselves, the designers understand the primacy of a garment’s ease of movement, creating styles that feel essential and appeal to customers of any age. The color palette is toned to natural hues native to the Nakhon Sawan region: a spectrum of indigo blues, earthy browns pulled from the fossilized remains of tree mites found in bark, pale pinks drawn from the red-clay earth, and the yellow-green of local mango plants.

The brand’s design process is a collaborative one that includes several village co-ops in the Isan region. Each woman-led group brings its unique weaving and dyeing methods, which have been passed down through generations. Known as “indigo grandmas,” the women are revered elders and community organizers, and their work represents a regenerative fiscal alternative to the resort and service industries that have dominated Thailand’s economy for decades. There is enduring economic incentive in Philip Huang’s workwear or their mango- and tree-bark-dyed socks.

In the recent past, with the death of the king and subsequent transfer of power, Thailand, a constitutional monarchy since the 1930s, has experienced unprecedented waves of social turbulence. Weeraworawit explains: “Underneath this layer of peace, fertility, and tropical bliss lies a lot of things we don’t discuss because, as a culture, Thailand has been molded to be this land of compromise and smiles.” The pandemic exposed inequalities, as it has in so many places, and has been driving a wave of youth-led protests demanding institutional reform. Linking the social component of the brand’s mission with its objective as a culture platform, Weeraworawit says that culture plays such an important role in her work because, “ultimately, what we’re all fighting for is room to be able to freely express ourselves.”

In her work on her brand and her consulting practice, Weeraworawit’s regular collaborators are internationally esteemed storytellers, artists like Rirkrit Tiravanija and Korakrit Arunanondchai, film director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and Michelin-starred chefs Gaggan Anand and Bo Songvisava. Whatever the medium, the themes of land and longing that interest Weeraworawit most are so local that they’re global. The specifics are different, but the issues are the same. Emotion rises in her voice as she says, “our concerns as human beings, our desires, our love for ‘other’ things — maybe they are the same all over the world. For me to be able to draw from my country, from the land, enables me to speak widely to people.”

As a translator of Thailand’s contemporary culture, Chomwan Weeraworawit shares insight into land, nature, wellness, and spirituality in her native country with the wider world. She was recently named co-curator of the third installment of the Bangkok Art Biennale, which begins in October 2022. The festival brings together artists from Thailand and abroad under the theme of Chaos : Calm, aptly echoing the energy of a country struggling with the notion of change. “Everything I’ve done draws from Thailand,” Weeraworawit says. “My purpose is to help further the creative landscape here.”

Where to Eat and What to Enjoy in Bangkok

Designer Chomwan Weeraworawit offers her personal favorites around town.

Food

  • 100 Mahaseth

    Nose-to-tail Isan cooking from one of the hardest-working and most imaginative chefs I know. Chalee Kader is a genius, and his sourcing from around the country is top-notch. The focus at Mahaseth is grilled foods and beef. He also has a new spot, Wana Yook, which is fine dining at its best, with 10 courses of the “last bite of curry.” It’s genius and a true exploration of Thai cuisine.

  • HERE and GAA

    Chef Garima Arora has a way with vegetables. She serves brilliant new “Indian” cuisine, clearly utilizing her NOMA skills. HERE is approachable and great for brunch and natural wine.

  • Jae Gee Fried Chicken

    A childhood favorite that continues to be relevant. Crispy fried chicken topped with garlic — there’s nothing like it. The cuisine is Isan, so the fried chicken is served with papaya salad and sticky rice, larb, etc.

  • Samrub for Thai

    Prin Polsuk’s chef’s table could be the best Thai food you will ever eat. After a career as executive chef at David Thompson’s NAHM, Chef Prin broke out on his own, and created this humble, incredible place with his wife Mint. The focus is on historical recipes from different regions in the country. Eating here immerses you in provenance and history.

  • Sühring

    The best German food ever.

  • P’Oun Pork Sticks

    Pork skewers at the top of Silom Soi 4. I’ve been eating here since I was 14, and they catered my 30th birthday. The chef has a special touch and a sauce to die for. Queuing starts at 11 p.m. and goes on through the night. Many memories here.

  • 100 Mahaseth

    Nose-to-tail Isan cooking from one of the hardest-working and most imaginative chefs I know. Chalee Kader is a genius, and his sourcing from around the country is top-notch. The focus at Mahaseth is grilled foods and beef. He also has a new spot, Wana Yook, which is fine dining at its best, with 10 courses of the “last bite of curry.” It’s genius and a true exploration of Thai cuisine.

  • Samrub for Thai

    Prin Polsuk’s chef’s table could be the best Thai food you will ever eat. After a career as executive chef at David Thompson’s NAHM, Chef Prin broke out on his own, and created this humble, incredible place with his wife Mint. The focus is on historical recipes from different regions in the country. Eating here immerses you in provenance and history.

  • HERE and GAA

    Chef Garima Arora has a way with vegetables. She serves brilliant new “Indian” cuisine, clearly utilizing her NOMA skills. HERE is approachable and great for brunch and natural wine.

  • Sühring

    The best German food ever.

  • Jae Gee Fried Chicken

    A childhood favorite that continues to be relevant. Crispy fried chicken topped with garlic — there’s nothing like it. The cuisine is Isan, so the fried chicken is served with papaya salad and sticky rice, larb, etc.

  • P’Oun Pork Sticks

    Pork skewers at the top of Silom Soi 4. I’ve been eating here since I was 14, and they catered my 30th birthday. The chef has a special touch and a sauce to die for. Queuing starts at 11 p.m. and goes on through the night. Many memories here.

Art

  • Bangkok Art Biennale

    Now in its third iteration, it will run from October 2022 to February 2023.

  • Museum Siam

    Once a palace, then the ministry of commerce (my dad worked there, so I used to run around the grounds as a kid), and now a museum that celebrates Thai culture. In the old town near the Chakrabongse Villas and flower market on the river, it’s a nice place for a stroll and a sense of history.

  • Jim Thompson House Museum and Art Center

    The home and Asian art collection of the “Thai Silk King.” The Art Center, run by Eric Booth and curator Gridthiya Gaweewong, is indispensable to the fabric of the city and contemporary art in Thailand.

  • Bangkok Art Biennale

    Now in its third iteration, it will run from October 2022 to February 2023.

  • Jim Thompson House Museum and Art Center

    The home and Asian art collection of the “Thai Silk King.” The Art Center, run by Eric Booth and curator Gridthiya Gaweewong, is indispensable to the fabric of the city and contemporary art in Thailand.

  • Museum Siam

    Once a palace, then the ministry of commerce (my dad worked there, so I used to run around the grounds as a kid), and now a museum that celebrates Thai culture. In the old town near the Chakrabongse Villas and flower market on the river, it’s a nice place for a stroll and a sense of history.

Architecture

  • MahaNakhon

    The tallest building in the country. Designed by Ole Scheeren, who also designed the floating cinema at Film on the Rocks Yao Noi.

Explore More
Our Contributors

Polina Aronova-Cahn Writer

Polina Aronova-Cahn is an editor and writer who connects the interrelated dots of culture, style, and conscious living. Her work is focused on lifestyle communication, translating the tools of mindfulness and holistic well-being into approachable yet aspirational stories of deep human connection.

John Tods Photographer

John Tods is a Bangkok-based fashion photographer.

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