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Thailand Hopes Fashions will Put Country on World's Catwalks

This week, Thai creations were the center of attention at the country's first Fashion Week - with hundreds of models showing off clothes designed in Thailand. The show is part of government efforts to promote Thailand as a fashion hub.

"The exhibition and designer showcase of Thai fashions [is made up of] more than 150 brands [from] the Thai fashion industry, including the textile and garment industry, the jewelry and accessory industry, and the leather industry," an announcer explained.

With music and glamor, Thailand has been busy campaigning to become an international fashion center. A big step in that effort was the Bangkok Fashion Week, which kicked off (began) August 17. During daily fashion shows, hundreds of models strutted down the catwalks, showing off the works of 30 Thai designers to an international audience that included such leading designers such as Alexander McQueen and Karl Lagerfeld.

One highlight was a collection by Princess Siriwanwaree Nariratana, a granddaughter of Thailand's King Bhumipol Adulyadej.

Ponlawat Sookcharu, one of the organizers of the Bangkok Fashion Week, says commercial efforts to promote the country's garment industry have gotten a big boost from the government.

"This project is the first time that [the] government support[ed] all the private sector in the fashion industry," he said. " So the main purpose is to create [more] awareness (of the designers), also (to show that Thai) designers can create their own design to meet the international trend."

The government has invested more than $43 million over the past few years to promote the textile industry, including funds for a series of fashion shows in Thailand as well as in Asian and European cities. A tour of the United States is scheduled for 2006.

Thailand's textile industry is one of the country's largest employers, with more than 800,000 workers - mostly women. In many provincial communities, the production of Thailand's famed silk, a glistening, lustrous fabric, is an economic cornerstone.

Thailand's traditional designs, with simple flowing lines, graceful silhouettes and brilliant fabric colors, have long been popular in Asia. But when it comes to international fashion, Thailand has mostly been known as a place to buy cheap copies of foreign styles. The government wants to change that.

However, leading European and U.S. textile manufacturers have warned that Thailand needs to eliminate the piracy of designer goods to ensure its future as a regional fashion center.

Metta Tanisajjatham's spring-summer collection, which combines Thai silk, linen and cotton, was showcased at Fashion Week. She says the event marks a good start for Thailand's bid to become a design center.

"I think this is a good beginning for us to expose our collection to foreigners," she said. "I don't expect that we're going to be top, top designer of the world, but for the regional, I think people will know us more than before - that's all I expect."

Designer Chaichon Savantrat, creator of the "Good Mixer" brand, says Thailand's fashion industry hopes to combine the traditions of East and West to make its mark on the global market.

"I believe in blending Eastern and Western, but based on what I like to do," he explained. " I have my own style. I believe the classic pieces (will last) forever - it's not about the trend."

Thai fashion designers are betting that the blend of East and West will show that their products meet the high standards of the international fashion world. In a few years, they hope, Bangkok will join New York, London, Paris and Tokyo as a key stop on the fashion circuit.