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A culmination of his Thai heritage, travels across the world, and ongoing passion for design, Barom Bhicharnchitr recently unveiled his most ambitious project to date, SIWILAI. Coinciding with the opening of Bangkok’s new mega mall Central Embassy, SIWILAI presents a new retail experience in the striving capital, joining the ranks of multi-brand retailers London’s Dover Street Market and Milan’s 10 Corso Como. Housing a print media and vinyl library, a beauty lab, toys and gadgets section, a “Thai-Made” department, as well as a comprehensive unisex selection of fashion and lifestyle brands, the “modern-day marketplace” as Bhicharnchitr suggest is “a whirlpool of cultures and experiences.” Carefully curated from start to finish, Bhicharchitr enlisted renown interior designers Yabu Pushelberg to outfit the store, while a knowledgeable floor team and unique pop-up installations allow the brands carried to fully express their retail concepts. We caught up with the young entrepreneur who spoke on how his multicultural upbringing has influenced the store’s curation, the importance of Thai culture, while also sharing with us collaborations and in-store exclusives with fashion heavyweights Kitsune, Head Porter and Native Sons.
“This is not just a location to buy fashion-week products: it’s a place where East and West collide.”
Can you introduce yourself and your role at SIWILAI?
My name is Barom Bhicharnchitr. I’m the founder of SIWILAI, and I also work closely with the buying and design team in the store. I founded SIWILAI two years ago under the Central Group which my family runs. SIWILAI is inspired by my travels to fashion weeks, trade shows and fairs. From floating markets to mega malls, Bangkok has long been a retail hub of sorts. With this venture, I am adding my experience to Thailand’s dynamic culture.
What’s the meaning behind the brand’s signature pattern, the Chao Phraya River?
The River is a symbol of our heritage. It indicates where we came from and where we’re going. The river is moving forward, and so are we as a label. The layers in the pattern represent components within the store. This is not just a location to buy fashion-week products: it’s a place where East and West collide.
What do you seek to provide with SIWILAI?
I’ve been given the opportunity to curate my own store under the Embassy Group. SIWILAI is the first store of this scale. It brings together vintage entities such as vinyl and archive magazines with modern fashion and technology alongside a quality dining experience. We offer a new retail format with a whirlpool of cultures in music, art and fashion. I want visitors to know some of the brands we carry, but leave the store having learned much more. For our opening party we brought A$AP Rocky and 2 Many DJs, i.e. two of the best artists in their respective genres. Likewise, we want to provide the best curation possible. This way, the consumer is not just purchasing an item for use but also a souvenir from experience in the store.
“We want to relate to the Thai audience while showing off our rich heritage to the international market.”
What’s your balance between international and local brands?
I try to sandwich Thai products between European and Asian brands. From the interior decorations such as the carvings on the door to the carpets and furniture, we have a Thai sensibility throughout. We are embracing our heritage while exhibiting contemporary designs.
The “Thai-Made” section is dedicated to local crafts. Can you tell us about it?
During trips to the South Thailand’s villages, I learned about techniques passed down for generations. The “Thai-Made” section is a tribute to this craftsmanship. For our in-house line we have special pottery, silk scarves and indigo dye T-shirts. We want to relate to the Thai audience while showing off our rich heritage to the international market.
What’s so special about Thai culture?
Thais are very friendly and laid-back, and Thailand has a good mix of cities and nature. Weekend trips to the beach and mountains can put us at ease. As an emerging market, we are aware of fashion, music and art; yet we’re deeply rooted in our traditions. The last five years have brought many conceptual restaurants and bars in Bangkok and a sophisticated art scene to go with them. Siwilai has arrived at the right time.
Bangkok is usually hot and humid. Has this affected SIWILAI’s buying habits?
We buy according to our local audience, yet over 40% of our visitors are tourists. So aside from stocking a wide selection of spring/summer pieces, we carry stock for all four seasons.
“We carry forward-thinking designs that aren’t too esoteric. Our brands are avant garde yet affordable and functional.”
From menswear to beauty products and rare vinyls, SIWILAI carries quite a collection. Can you introduce the different sectors?
We carry forward-thinking designs that aren’t too esoteric. Our brands are avant garde yet affordable and functional. This season we focus on casual luxury labels, with a distinct nod at the merging of sportswear and streetwear.
A corner is dedicated to vintage workwear, including retro Wrangler and Levi’s apparel. This section is positioned next to designs we brought back from fashion week. Then there’s a section dedicated to beauty: from nail polish to body care, candles to soap. We don’t try to compete with the large department stores; rather, we hold products that are a bit quirky and seek a younger audience. Our toys and gadgets include limited-edition collectibles alongside speakers, turntables and other electronic goods. Our books section offers both new and archival issues of fashion and lifestyle magazines. The quaint publications go hand-in-hand with a strictly-vinyl selection. Finally the section dedicated to Thai-made products provides a spotlight on local artisans.
You’ve tapped a number of acclaimed labels to produce one-off designs as part of the “Made for Siwilai” range. What do you seek to explore with this collection?
Our collaborators are close friends who happen to be great designers and artists. The “Made for SIWILAI” collection celebrates the partnership and shared qualities. One popular piece has been our Safari Trolley Case with British luggage label Globe-trotter. The bag features the brand’s meticulous designs while incorporating the Chao Phraya pattern on its body. Another standout release was our collaboration with Maison Kitsune on the classic cotton-pique polo shirt. Kitsune’s mascot, the fox, is placed with Thailand’s national animal, the elephant. Other collaborations include designs with Head Porter, Orlebar Brown, Native Sons, Shwood, JBB*and Olympia Le-Tan.
You’ve also teamed up with Rocket for the coffee bar. How did this happen?
I’ve known the guys at Rocket for eight years. They’re among the best restaurants in the city, and I wanted them to join me on this journey. We’ve adapted the traditional Thai menu and created fusion dishes and cocktails that complement the overall feel of the bar. We’ve re-appropriated details seen in Thai villages in a modern restaurant environment. When Embassy was built, we could have taken a ground-floor space by the entrance but we chose the fifth floor. This is partly because of the terrace, but also because it is tucked away and feels special when people have to search to find it.
What has made SIWILAI possible?
The whole concept of SIWILAI wouldn’t have been made possible without friends who’ve supported us. Friendship is an important factor of SIWILAI.
For more on SIWILAI, check out our recap of the store opening here.