Design connoisseurs must have noticed the rumble Maewkhoo has been making recently. Back in December they had launched their first-ever clothing collection “Fruit of the Doomed”, but this unabashedly cool and rebellious name does more than just fashion. It’s by the same brains behind custom motorcycle builders Half Caste Creations— Dennis Karlsson and Yann Kennedy—but under this new incarnation, the label encompasses a multiple range of the duo’s interests ranging from furniture, branding, interior design to fashion. In fact, anything may pop up under this name, provided it is of great quality, design and craftsmanship.
Their name and logo is roused from the familiar association that certain animals represent power, strength and prestige, but also because Dennis and Yann had seen the live, breathing image in Chinatown. “We actually saw a screeching black cat on the street and it was just such a real and raw emotion,” Dennis recalls.
“Even though the cat was scared, it still stood up for itself to seize the opportunity in that actual moment. That resonated with both of us in terms of our aesthetics and how we designed.”
The pair sources 60s-80s post modern radical Italian design furniture— a rarity to find in Thailand—but also design striking objects of their own, such as benches made of boxing bags or oversized, leather rucksacks. Last year, they had released a “Thaiwaiian” Crepe de Chine silk shirt with cheeky original prints of Thai teak houses and common folk hilariously riding on crocodiles. It was an instant best seller and Dennis amusedly confesses that people usually misunderstand, thinking it is something made by Jim Thompson.
Clearly, the products at Maewkhoo are expertly executed. It draws a lot of inspiration from the boundless trove of traditional Thai culture, but also breathes a new life into them at the same time. On this design ethos, Dennis explains, “It’s a really good angle because it’s something everyone sees, but it’s often overlooked. I know everyone sees temple murals growing up and in school. It’s visually very appealing and different. It’s something people don’t really think much about and we saw an opportunity to reinterpret it. There’s really no point in following what other people are doing.”
In the Fruit of the Doomed collection, it’s finally possible to wear Buddhist beliefs of the afterlife on your sleeve. Mural paintings usually seen in temples turn into original hellish motifs: flaming skulls and Thai demons are the decked all over the Thaiwaiian shirts or immaculately embroidered onto wool and silk suits and tailored pants. Equally elaborate and eye-catching, the clothes are made with the know-how of Bangkok’s biggest names when it comes to stunning masterpieces: Pichita. Yann is married to the designer Tatim Rucksajit (daughter of the famed couturier Pichitra Boonyarataphan) and since moving to Thailand, has picked up a secret or two from the atelier. “I did get the fruits of knowledge,” says Yann. “Me moving into that house and helping to run the business, I did learn a few tricks for sure. My wife’s mom taught me a lot about cuts, pattern-making and some techniques that’s helped [with this collection].”
Another intricately crafted product line includes the flaming Bencharong pieces, which instantly sold out upon release alongside the clothing launch. Although modern with new formats and sizing, these pieces are still reminiscent of masterpieces from Rama V’s reign and take at least a week to be painted.
The Maewkhoo studio is going against the very nature of today’s Internet-driven landscape that demands instantaneous gratification— with Yann insisting that there are no fixed schedules for collection releases. “Artists are painting every day morning till evening—it’s very time-consuming,” says the French-born designer. “It’s something we aren’t used to anymore in our generation.
Nowadays, if you want to make clothes, you place everything on paper and everything sounds easy, but the truth is it doesn’t work like that. Everything takes so much time. When you dig towards the craft, it’s a different way of creating. That’s why we don’t really pay attention to timeline in terms of needing to release 2-3 collections a year. We start a lot of projects and attribute the time that’s needed for it to be done right.
“We collaborate and work with a lot of people,” he goes on to say. “We have to work with them, we want to. We appreciate [their expertise] and for us, it’s a way to either recreate a trend and to support the people at the foundation of it. The only way to preserve a dying art is to promote it and to use it. We want the younger generation to admire it and want to keep doing these things.”
Simply put, it’s all about repackaging if it wants to survive. Other higher-octave collaborations Maewkhoo has also released are spanking golden boots with footwear brand Rich Cast of Characters and funky gold accessories crafted by Hua Seng Heng that get a gangster sheen. In a truly exclusive fashion, everything is limited and will not be reproduced in the future, for a sense of urgency. “We’ll do something else so we don’t become stuck,” Dennis reveals that hellish motifs may not come up anymore. “Something our mentor tells us is to always try to break the mold. Keep people on their toes and guessing what we’re going to do next. The whole idea of this is when it comes out it, it makes as much impact possible. But more ceramics definitely. Everyone always needs ceramics!”
It’s a rebellious enterprise on all aspects, but what Yann concludes shows how it’s not just about the buzz. “I’d like people to perceive Maewkhoo as a radical but conscious brand,” he muses. “I don’t want people to think of us as an unapproachable brand either—we’re 2 guys running this. We’re really open about this and a lot has been changing and is changing. We’re not just a cool brand or money-making machine, but something with a purpose.”