Making the Chiang Mai Collection

 Old City Canal. Chiang Mai, Thailand. 

Old City Canal. Chiang Mai, Thailand. 

I just wrapped up work on a second collection from Chiang Mai, Thailand, the cultural and artistic heart of Thailand. If you’ve been to Chiang Mai before, you already know how enchanting this place is. You may also know that it is a shopper’s paradise. Street markets are filled with fun, cheaply made things, but there are also ancient and new traditions of handmade clothing and other wearables to be found upon deeper exploration. As a tourist during my first visit two years ago, I knew I was merely scratching the surface with the few hard-found pieces I procured for my personal collection. Just this small glimpse into what was possible excited me. I knew I had to go back for Le Mondeur to see what I could find. What I found far exceeded any expectations.

To create this collection, I literally hit the pavement for several weeks in Chiang Mai (and one week in Myanmar) for some planned and many more fortuitously unplanned meetings with all kinds of artisans and organizations. If starting Le Mondeur has taught me anything, it’s that I shouldn’t be afraid to ask for what I want or be deterred by not knowing. Sometimes you just need to cabin hesitation and knock on some damn doors. Well, I guess I did a whole lot of knocking for this collection, as my phone logged 60+ miles of walking in sweltering heat. It’s these small, daily acts of courage (insanity?) and curiosity, coupled with some advance research, a ton of openness and a little bit of luck that allowed me to connect with the incredibly diverse and talented group of makers who are behind this collection.

 Taking my custom Sarisa jumpsuit out for a sunset stroll at Wat Chedi Luang. 

Taking my custom Sarisa jumpsuit out for a sunset stroll at Wat Chedi Luang. 

Feroz – I had a mind to get into some of my own design for this collection but had not the faintest idea where to start. I did not go to fashion or even art school, and have done little beyond sewing my own buttons on garments on occasion. On my first day in Chiang Mai I stumbled into the hottest, dustiest market I’ve ever been in and found a small stash of vintage fabric with which I am now completely obsessed. Rolls of handwoven, vintage hemp (by Hmong hill tribe women) in assorted colors, formerly skirts. The pieces range in age and wear from old to really old, and the stash is dwindling. The woman who sells them, who I ended up going back to frequently, doesn’t offer discounts—ever, to anyone. The fabric is expensive, but it is gorgeous and durable. I bought a roll and, on a whim, took it to the tailor down the street from my hotel to see if he could help me make this suit I had in mind.

At first credulous while examining this antique fabric in a width as narrow as the back-strap loom on which it was made, the tailor, Feroz, agreed to try. I don’t blame him for not getting my vision from the beginning. It was not his job to work with fabric like this or to even design outside the box, but he was intrigued. When the jacket arrived for the first fitting both Feroz and I lit up: it was perfect, and so freaking cool. Only problem is that I’d need another for the sleeves, and each roll of fabric is unique. No matter: we’d mix and match. This made the jacket even cooler. Thus began a few week design and production mania with this forgotten fabric to make something wholly unique in the world, the product of which you can shop/browse in the collection. Feroz and I also became pretty good friends, and I even got him some fabric that he made into this amazing shirt (pictured). I’ve named the series Baby’s Got Suit. There are a few ready-to-wear pieces but we’re offering custom tailoring for full suits, summer suits and shorts.  

Sarisa – A force of nature, clothing designer and, now, friend. Nearly all the clothes in this collection are her designs because, well, she has the best stuff in all of Chiang Mai. In a sea of market stalls, I was instantly drawn to her clothes, and we became fast friends. Rare, unreproducible and beautifully designed, each piece you buy from Sarisa is a piece you keep in your forever wardrobe. Sarisa and I are two peas in a pod, and we went on quite a few adventures together during my time in Chiang Mai. I have written a story about her path to becoming a clothing designer as well as another adventure of ours, so you can read more there once it's posted.

These are merely a few of the seriously talented and lovely artisans with whom I connected while in Chiang Mai. There are so many other artisans and makers I met along the way (pictured below: master weaver from Studio Naenna, Ploy Kasom in her studio, Toye in her workshop), and I hope you’ll take the time to read more about some of them through the individual product descriptions where their work is represented.

As for the collection itself, I felt like I hit my stride in terms of really feeling and creating a fuller and more refined vision for Le Mondeur. The result is what I know to be the coolest selection of wearable art that Chiang Mai has to offer, all of which you’ve likely never seen before (at least not like this). From repurposed, handmade vintage textiles from the hill tribes to wholly modern and far-out painted bags, what ties this collection together is an undeniable spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. The collection itself is really going to knock your socks off…or on, if we're talking about Le Mondeur’s footwear debut.

Collection launches June 7 online!