All Dressed Up
Phisit Jongnarangsin and Saksit Pisalasupongs designed more than 100 costumes for Toy Factoryʼs 881 The Musical, which won them the Best Costume Design Award at the Life! Theatre Awards in 2012.
From designing costumes and puppets for the 28th SEA Games to working on local theatre productions, Thai fashion and costume designers Phisit Jongnarangsin and Saksit Pisalasupongs of Bangkok-based Tube Gallery have had a stellar Golden Jubilee year in Singapore.
BY KAREN TEE
PHOTOS SPH LIBRARY, WILD RICE
hile Singapore is an ultra-modern metropolis boasting an awe-inspiring skyline of skyscrapers as far as the eye can see, something decidedly low-tech has left a deeper impression on fashion designer Phisit Jongnarangsin.
“I like the greenery in Singapore; you don’t find much of that in Bangkok. The big trees here never fail to make me smile,” says Jongnarangsin, one half of the design duo behind Bangkok-based fashion label, Tube Gallery.
He and his business partner Saksit Pisalasupongs were the costume and puppet designers for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 28th SEA Games, which were held in Singapore in June 2015. They created more than 200 unique and exuberant designs that showcased the sporting spirit of the SEA Games and Singapore as a garden city.
They were also commissioned for several other SG50 projects, making 2015 a particularly busy year. Apart from the SEA Games, they designed costumes for the SG50 staging of the musical December Rains by Toy Factory Productions as well as for The Emperor’s New Clothes, one of five productions by theatre group Wild Rice commemorating this landmark year.
“I love how Singaporeans answer ʻCan!ʼ to almost every request we make. It seems like everything is possible and impossible is nothing!”
Designer Saksit Pisalasupongs
Says Jongnarangsin: “We are very lucky to be part of this monumental year for Singapore. It made us understand more of what Singapore means to its people and to us. We feel that as Singapore’s history is still short compared to its neighbouring countries, its future is far more important for Singaporeans. This understanding can help to propel Singapore forward at a high speed.”
Their time in Singapore has inspired their work, too. The emcees’ outfits for the SEA Games opening ceremony incorporated iconic Singapore motifs, such as the five stars and the city skyline. To complement an opening ceremony scene that was inspired by Singapore’s Garden City image, they designed costumes and animal puppets featuring flora and fauna commonly found in the country.
Of their experience on The Emperor’s New Clothes, Jongnarangsin says: “The costume design was very avant-garde, very over the top. It is set in a parallel universe of the one we live in, so we let our imagination run wild. For example, for the Emperor and Empress, their costumes made them look like they were representing Singapore at the Miss Universe beauty pageant.”
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Phisit Jongnarangsin (left) and Saksit Pisalasupongs; The duo came up with 200 different costume designs for the 28th SEA Games; To evoke the motif of the rainy season, costumes for the musical December Rains were stained with pale watercolour streaks of green and blue; Making sure that the shoes are worn correctly on the set of The Emperorʼs New Clothes.
Their designs, under their fashion label, are also dramatic, incorporating the whimsical with an element of couture, sometimes in the form of intricate embellishments and needlework. Their statement-making gowns are a favourite of Thai society and have been seen on international celebrities, including English singer Paloma Faith.
Of course, clothing and costume design involve separate sensibilities. “As a fashion designer, you are using your creativity under the watchful eye of the big boss – the marketplace. You have more opportunities to express yourself. However, you are also on your own,” says Pisalasupongs.
“As a costume designer, you are required to work as a team with everybody, including the set designer, the art director, the cast, the wardrobe mistress and the director. It is the teamwork that makes theatre fun and magical. I suppose it is like being in a boy band versus being a solo artist.”
The duo’s Singapore connection was forged in London. Pisalasupongs had befriended Singaporean theatre director, playwright and designer Goh Boon Teck while they were studying theatre directing at Middlesex University in the late ’90s. In 2008, Goh, who is founder and chief artistic director of Toy Factory, invited them to collaborate on a small project called Evolution, before engaging them to design the Tibetan-, Nepali- and Bhutanese-inspired costumes for the 2010 production of Maha Moggallana.
Since then, the Thai designers have been involved in various other Singaporean theatre productions, including Toy Factory’s 881 The Musical and Wild Rice’s Monkey Goes West. They have won the Best Costume Design Award at the annual Life! Theatre Awards twice – first in 2012 for 881 The Musical and again in 2015 for Monkey Goes West.
Both say they enjoy working with Singaporeans, who are great team players. “Singaporeans have more respect for their colleagues and fellow team mates.
They know how to be successful with a group and to work with a team. The multicultural society here makes people more aware and respectful of cultural differences, and we have no problem working with any team in Singapore. Singaporeans are generally nice, understanding and very helpful,” says Jongnarangsin.
Adds Pisalasupongs: “I love how Singaporeans answer ‘Can!’ to almost every request we make. It seems like everything is possible and impossible is nothing!”
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