Friday, November 6, 2009

Manit Sriwanichpoom on Tata Young and Jiworn Fashion Mar.2000

Manit Sriwanichpoom, ‘Jiworn Fashion,’ in the Silpa Wattanatham column of Siam Rath Weekly News magazine, Yr. 46, Vol. 41, 14 – 18 Mar. 2000.

A plea for pardon by the popular young singer, Amitta ‘Tata’ Young, is in newspaper headlines. She wore some fashions adapted and cut from the cloth used to make monks’ robes in Praew Weekender magazine. I tend to sympathize with Tata because of her reasons for putting on the ‘jiworn fashion.’ It was very interesting and I bring it forward to analyze as a study about what goes on in Thai society.

The newspaper Kao-Sodt of Mon. 21 Feb.(2000) had an interview with Tata:

“Tata didn’t intend to disrespect religion, but having made the shoot, if it is disrespectful, it is necessary to apologize to everyone and to Buddhists. If I had thought it was disrespectful, I wouldn’t have done it. I respect Buddhism and Christianity. I’m just a fashion model. The designer wanted to make an avant garde fashion.”

The story went on to report that the concept emphasized orange, which is the hot color this year: she just didn’t think much more about it. Besides, Praew Weekender magazine is a major publication. The executives there consider things carefully. They would be the ones to consider what clothes the model should wear and which she should not. Tata was not their only model. Florence (Wanida Faver) wore the same fashion.

I doubt that Tata, Florence, designer Montri Termsombat and Praew Weekender –any of them– intended to disrespect religion.

This kind of thing is dangerous; it’s looking for trouble.

Just close your eyes and imagine Tata, Florence and the other Thai models waving flags and asking the High Council of Buddhism in Thailand to revive the Buddhist religion which has fallen so low here. Can you imagine that? I can’t either. They must hurry to issue the forgiveness. If not, there may be protests of shaved heads, scored and bleeding; attempts to drag the beautiful star toward punishment instead of letting her loose on the catwalk.

What I’m recalling a year or two ago, in a positive sense about ‘jiworn fashion,’ is the Chinese designer who showed a new collection inspired by funeral apparel (shrouds) from ancient China. When this designer showed his work in China, he was severely criticized and disrespecting the ancestors. The designer explained that he had given the clothing of the dead as sexy fashion for the living to pose questions to Chinese society today. In the midst of the current of globalization and following the West, are the ceremonies associated with death still meaningful? If they are, then how so? In short, he used fashion to investigate the value of tradition in society today.

We might see that this Chinese designer was saying to the public that the various traditions are not unlike fashions. That is, everyone follows along with the trend, but sometimes it is difficult to find meaning in such things.

When you think of the Chinese designer, one wants to think of Thai designers like Montri Termsombat, the owner of Jiworn Fashion. Hot, hot! I don’t know what Montri thinks about cutting a dress from the monk’s jiworn for Tata and Florence to wear. I thought I would telephone Montri and clear things up. But he avoided risking the press and retreated upcountry. He gave no interviews. That was good. (Otherwise, he might have been torn to shreds by representatives of religion and maybe art and culture too.)

Montri admitted to Kao-Sodt that he intended to use all the costumes of the monks and adapt them all. He didn’t explain why he had chosen the jiworn particularly. Besides the public apology offered by Amarin Printing and Publishing Co.Ltd, the owner of the magazine said that the case arose from the fact that the editors had emphasized vividly colored fashion expressing creative ideas. One designer presented an idea inspired by the orange color of the monk’s robe. The color is a big hit in the fashion world today.

You can say that Montri didn’t think it out as far as the questions that arise about the beliefs and meanings of Buddhism. He just liked the color of the jiworn and cut and sewed it so you can see the seams of the pieces of cloth joined together – an ancient monkish tradition. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that the exotic nature of the jiworn was not part of its appeal. In Montri’s capacity as designer, he would like to see his designs cut and sewn from the jiworn cloth. It’s colorful; the pattern and surface textures are interesting; and it is more orange than ever.

The cloth of the monks’ robe should be good raw material. Many people agreed with Montri, but they didn’t dare to try it. They were afraid of going to hell, so they didn’t actually carry out the thing they wanted to do.

Though he didn’t think deeply about the ramifications for Thai Buddhism, people like us should be able to put a top on his ideas. For example, we can ask if it is true or not nowadays that people see the yellow jiworn simply as a uniform, what designers call ‘costume’? It would be no different, in that sense, than the traditional garb of the hill tribe people, or the uniforms of other professionals such as police and soldiers. Thinking, as in times past, of moral leaders of the mind and soul tends to blur the picture of life in a big city nowadays. The issue of monks and lords hardly enters into ordinary life at all here, until someone you know dies. Then we go to the temple for the ceremony. It’s mostly a social occasion.

People also go to ask for some magical object, for a lottery number. They hope to become rich. They depend on astrology. They want to be exorcized from bad luck. They want to tamper with destiny rather than relying on Dhamma. Or, if you like Dhamma, you can subscribe to Dhammakai. They are a good investment and give good returns. Everyone in the city knows this, including the Department of Religion and the Ministry of Education. Mr. Somsak Prisnanandkul knows better than most.

Bringing a monk’s jiworn to cut into a fashionable dress for a female model was an extremely disturbing thing to do. Close observers suggest that Thai society has entered completely into a post-modern era, an era in which nothing is sacred, including religion and faith. Nothing is taken as truly valuable anymore. You see? Take the monk’s jiworn and cut a dress from it; put it on a model; take the photo. Then select the photos and print and sell them. All this doesn’t happen in one day, nor is it accomplished by a single person working alone. The work was done systematically by a team. People helped it along, as Tata mentioned in her interview. Why did they all let this thing pass? It shows that everyone was OK with the pictures. Even Tata’s mother thought her daughter’s fashion-jiworn outfit was very pretty. This shows in an indirect way that quite a large number of people see the jiworn simply as a piece of cloth. It can be cut into this form or that; no one saw it as sacrosanct. What is good…what is not good? One might see something as attractive because one knows how to adapt and use resources from the provinces, old things, making new use of them. (Things like this, in a Zen fable, would be an occasion of sudden enlightenment. I’m not kidding.)

What gave rise to dissatisfaction among people concerned with religion – along with Phra Payom Kalyano - is that change in Thai society is not evenly distributed. Some people are in the pre-modern period; some are in the modern period; and some are already in the post-modern period. All their values and belief are different!

Whatever the era, the thing that stays the same is that more people mistake trifles for essentials. All they see is the jiworn; they don’t see Dhamma. The more they complain, the more we see that Thai society hardly understands the teachings of Buddhism. Though we all pass through Buddhist studies, we still don’t take Dhamma as the central principle. It is a waste of energy to talk about this. Everyone is clinging to the jiworn in hope it will carry them up to heaven.

Let your imagination carry you 10 or 20 years into the future to things which are forbidden today – including the monks’ robe. It may become raw material for best-selling fashion, bringing in foreign exchange to the nation to feed the cravings of the civil and political bureaucracy.

At that time, no one will complain. They will rather count their money.

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