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Profiling | Top Notch

Teeming with life, energy and of course – non-stop shopping; Bangkok is getting increasingly popular of late as a prime shopping destination. From its high end malls, night markets, to even its sidewalks; there will always be something for everyone. Do not be too quick to judge though; you will be surprised to find that the clothes and shoes sold from pavements follow the latest trends as seen on blogs, television and the like.

With the abundance of options, finding a Bangkok designer focused on making clothes that will last beyond the shelf life of the latest trend or hipster haunt is no easy feat.

ActuallyMAG caught up with Ink, a 34 year old flight attendant turned fashion designer. Despite being situated in the heart of a Bangkok shopping district, his shop, Top Notch, has managed to carve out a niche by focusing on staple clothing.

When did you first become interested in fashion?

Ink: I was about 18 when I started saving my weekly allowances for fashion magazines. I used to love flipping through the pages to check out the latest styles worn by Thai celebrities. My first job was at an international bank, and I loved the slacks and jackets associated with it. And because office culture in Thailand is a little more laidback, I would spruce up my outfits with shorts or bow-ties.

Top Notch's assortment of stylish bow ties

You were a flight attendant for quite a while; did you have any favorite fashion destinations?

I: I worked for nearly ten years as a flight attendant, and was lucky to get to travel around the world. I loved going to New York, London and Brazil. I always tried to get the Friday flights so I could have a weekend layover to shop and people watch. My favorite spot was Covent Market in London. I’d fly in on a Friday night, spend the morning checking out shops then leave later in the afternoon.

So how did you go from flight attendant to starting your own clothing line?

I: The airline I worked for downsized and I lost my job. Thus, I had to rethink what I wanted to do. I had dreamt of opening a shop for years but I didn’t have any prior training. I never studied fashion, couldn’t sew, and didn’t know the first thing about patterns; but I loved picking out cloths and fabrics.

So with the support of my partner, I decided to open a shop. I would sketch designs and then spend entire days with a tailor learning about patterns and measurements. I would go to the market to pick out fabrics, and seeking ideas and inspirations from the more unique ones. I still spend 3 or 4 days a week looking at different fabrics.

You design exclusively menswear, why is that?

I: Some people find designing womenswear exciting as there’re generally more design options available. However, I love designing menswear as the clothes are able to complement and bring out the strong features of a man. It’s all about finding the right balance that’s exciting, but still being strong.

So what’s the inspiration behind your line?

I: To design clothes that are simplistic and wearable in everyday situations. Metaphorically speaking, most men would want a simple breakfast for their mornings: my designs are something like that; but because not every man is the same, I offer a little more for those who prefer ‘sushi in the morning’.

The challenge is creating something that stands out; yet still remaining elegant and timeless. This is where utilizing quality materials is important: hence the name, ‘Top Notch’.

A little "sushi" for you?

When did you know that you would survive as a designer?

I: I knew the day I started seeing my designs on the streets, and when buyers from TV shows and magazines started popping by. I also knew when I got asked to design the uniform for the salespeople of a European car company. All these helped me realize my survivability.

What do you think makes Bangkok’s fashion different?

I: In Bangkok, you can’t wear shorts or sleeveless tops to the temple. This culture is practiced even today. But of course, on a regular night out, it’s quite the norm to find people who are quite crazily dressed. Thus, I think that the mindset here is still somewhat in limbo; which makes the fashion a little different.

What fashion advice do you have for men?

I: Get a proper shirt. Pay attention to the length of the sleeves, buttons and collar as they are extremely understated details that make or break a shirt. You can go anywhere with a good shirt.

– Ruici Tio

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