For one week in December, Chiang Mai is transformed into an open art space with art installations, exhibitions, seminars, designer showcases and popup markets at different venues all over town. Local and visiting international artists, new talent, designers, craftspeople, students, creative entrepreneurs and businesspeople all come together to showcase their new projects and innovations in design. Held December 3–11, Chiang Mai Design Week (CMDW) is organised by TCDC (Thailand Creative Design Centre), TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand) and TCEB (Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau), in close collaboration with the private sector, in order to further develop and promote northern Thailand’s creative economy.
The theme of this year’s design week was “New Originals”, highlighting the new breed of designers and entrepreneurs who are merging the old and traditional with the new and contemporary. Preserving the traditional and artisanal techniques which have been passed down through generations of families, some have given their products a fresh interpretation while others specialise in producing their designs in a sustainable and eco-friendly manner using locally sourced materials.
The entire city of Chiang Mai is a fertile hotbed of creativity brimming with boutiques, small shops, design studios and art galleries around every corner. Below is only a smattering of brands you can check out on your next visit to Thailand’s north — they all embrace that perfect blend of artisanal skills and modern design thinking.
Winner of the Thailand Design Excellence Award (DEmark) 2016, indigo ceramics maker Prempracha represents a combination of two of northern Thailand’s oldest and most precious arts: weaving and handmade ceramics. Each plate is given its unique look by imprinting the clay with fine, hand-woven fabric. Once baked, the history of the weave is preserved through the life of the plate. The intended purpose of these plates is to be used as containers for jewelry and those special treasures you acquire.
Prempracha’s Collection, 224 M.3, Chiang Mai Sankampang Road, T. Tonpao, A. Sankampang Chiang Mai, prempracha.com
Newly launched clothing and accessories brand Surreal Stitch was founded by Mai Siriwan, who comes from a family of weavers in northern Thailand. A talented painter and sculptor with a Fine Arts degree, Mai embroiders her “crazy designs” on fabrics made by her family’s company, using traditional embroidery techniques. The hand embroidery patterns on her collection “Till Death Do Us Part” were inspired by Frida Kahlo’s surreal paintings that portray physical illness and emotional pain. Mai’s eclectic creations are currently only available through Facebook and Instagram.
Surreal Stitch, facebook/surrealstitch
Mr. Leaf’s collection of products is living proof that it’s actually possible to create home décor objects, accessories and even furniture out of teak leaves. Using biodegradable materials and an innovative technology that won its creator Poramet Saiupparachmaterial (a.k.a. “Mr. Leaf”) the 2016 National Innovation Award, every piece of the collection is meticulously made by hand to ensure premium quality. The products are surprisingly sturdy and have an interesting natural look thanks to the individual leaf patterns clearly visible on the surfaces. Besides Chiang Mai, Mr. Leaf can also usually be found at the biannual Bangkok International Gift Fair and Bangkok International Houseware Fairs (BIG + BIH).
Mr. Leaf, 111/27 Na Chuen Village, Sanklang, Sankampaeng, Chiang Mai, leaf2003.com
Chuanglhong is a ceramics maker located in Lamphun, 30 minutes from Chiang Mai, founded by Uthai Kanjanakuha who studied the ancient glazing techniques of the Wiang Ka Lhong and Sukhothai kilns. A previous Chiang Mai Design Award winner known for its stylish tableware, its Ganesha God of Art Ceramic statues and many other decorative items, the brand’s “Emotional Doorknobs” Collection again caught the judges’ attention. Customers can touch and feel the four emotions – smiling, laughing, angry and furious – in the collection. The Emotional Doorknobs have their origin in a four-faced bronze item that a customer once took to Chuanglhong. At first nothing came of it until they used the design to develop its popular four-faced ceramic stool. Customers liked the stool, which is still available, but size and weight sometimes became an issue, so Chuanglhong developed its emotional doorknobs, separating the four faces to create a new and much-loved product.
Chuanlhong Ceramic, 10 Moo 10 Lamphun-Rimping Road, T. Rimping, Muang Lamphun, chuanlhong.com
Set in a beautiful colonial shophouse with Cino-Portuguese influenced architecture, this fine silk brand from Chiang Mai presented its new collection at Chiang Mai Design Week. Vila Cini has been producing home décor items and clothing in Chiang Mai for nearly two decades, handling the entire process from cultivating the mulberries to weaving the fabrics. Fabrics are created using the traditional “ikat” weaving and dying technique which give the textiles their distinctive and intricate patterns. The dying process involves using natural plant dyes found in the area, resulting in beautiful colors that never fade. Apart from the classic tones that have long been popular, Vila Cini has given their designs a contemporary twist by using vibrant colors inspired by masterpieces of Impressionism, such as the green of the lotus leaves found in Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies”, the blue in Vincent van Gogh’s “Two Cut Sunflowers”, and the red from the flower bushes in Gustave Caillebotte’s “Thatched Cottage”.
Vila Cini, Chang Moi, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai, vilacini.com
InClay Studio Pottery
A Chiang Mai Design Awards Winner 2013, Jirawong Wongtrangan spent five years studying and practicing the art of ceramics and printmaking before working at a ceramics factory in Chiang Rai, and eventually opening his own studio. Using mostly natural glazes and drawing patterns and themes from the surrounding landscape, he produces one-of-a-kind hand-thrown ceramics. Jirawong also offers ceramics enthusiasts a variety of workshops at his studio from long-term, tailor-made courses to one-day affairs for those who’d like to try their hand at spinning a pottery wheel.
InClay Studio, 35 Siroroj Road. Tambon Suthep, Amphoe Mueang, Chiang Mai, facebook.com/Inclaystudio