The Many Realities of Vatanika

The enigmatic designer talks fashion, friendship and being the woman every girl wants to be

A veteran fashion PR and designer of a cult handbag brand once wrote on his Facebook: "You can get your cup noodle ready in three minutes by putting it on your smartphone, provided you leave the screen on Vatanika Patamasingha Na Ayudhaya's Instagram page."

Vatanika at the end of her show at Bangkok International Fashion Week 2017 (above) and Elle Fashion Week 2016 (below).

You can say it's a fine hyperbole. Vatanika oozes hotness from every nanometre of her pores -- a fact none would argue. Those sultry eyes. Her full, plump lips, often painted in matte nude. That honeyed complexion and those enviable curves, perfectly draped in sensual silky fabrics -- her very own design creation. Her soft, husky voice and that strong British accent when she converses in English, like when she spoke with Muse. She's a diva among divas, a designer who still commands all eyes to look at her even when she struts down her fashion show's runway flanked by leggy models and the country's most luminous superstars like Urassaya Sperbund and Janie Tienphosuwan.

"I was no diva," she said while shaking her head when asked if she was a Queen Bee in childhood. "I was a fat kid. I'm not … I'm the crazy one. Back in the day, all my friends were like … school stars. My sister was head cheerleader. Joy [Narumon Kittivararit], my CEO, was the captain of a sports team and I did nothing but eat fried pork belly at the back of the classroom and was always getting detention for things I didn't do. My parents were always summoned to the disciplinary committee. My mum didn't get it. She said it's ridiculous that she had to come to school and sign a paper just because I ate in classroom."

"I'm still a fat kid at heart," she said with a laugh after hearing her school chums, who all are involved in the business of the Vatanika brand in some way, and even her father, confirmed the many unbelievable childhood tales of a girl who grew up to be the woman thousands aspire to be.

But as opposed to the uber-sexy and glamorous image she projects on social media and during public appearances -- those swimsuit IG pix and the controversial lip-locking scene on the runway with Namthip Jongrachatawiboon at last year's runway show that broke the internet, Vatanika is in essence a very sweet lady, most especially when she approaches those who are her senior. She's much loved by the strictest, hardest-to-please fashion and society big wigs, who all insist this famed designer is the same girl they have always known, and that the hotness you see may just be one of the many realities after all.

And then there's that gentleness of character -- her soft voice and mild manner. Vatanika is very protective of her friends, and they of her. Her fashion PR friend Ornarpa "KK" Tantha-obhas once complained: "She would fiercely find faults with all men that came into my life. I believe I would end up a spinster because of her!" And the love she has for her friends and family becomes clearer with every minute of our interview: Vatanika would let her guard down once a friend or member of her family was brought into the conversation, be it her CEO Joy, KK, Vatanika brand's PR Khoravipha "Aoey" Jotikasthira or her little sister Peb, the brains and eyes behind Vatanika's promotional videos.

"I'm pretty good at getting people to do what I want them to do," she said when asked how she managed to get all her talented friends and family to work at Vatanika. "Joy was trading oil when I basically forced her to quit that job and come to work at Vatanika. You know it's a girl thing. We've known one another since kindergarten and I always told them about my dreams, asking them to come help me when the time comes. So when the day came, it's like, 'If you don't help me, I'll be mad!'. And for Joy, she loved celebrities so I kind of told her she could get close to celebrities if she comes to help me."

Not that she's lying. The front-row guests during the press conference for Vatanika's reality TV This Is Me Vatanika, which was first aired last Friday, comprised the country's brightest stars: Taksaorn Paksukcharern, Janie Tienphosuwan, Morakot Santaweep, Chermarn Boonyasak and Kanyawee Songmuang, to name but a few. Vatanika's clothes are celebrity favourites, and not just in the homeland. Within a relatively short period of five years after launching the brand in 2011, her collections are worn by the world's most famous "it" girls such as Gigi Hadid, Hailey Baldwin, Kylie Jenner, Miranda Kerr, Ariana Grande, Alessandra Ambrosio and Eva Longoria.

The universal appeal of Vatanika clothes lies in the designer's strong philosophy -- her view on what an item of clothing could do to make a woman beautiful, to empower them. The Vatanika sensibility combines feminine sensuality with masculine strength: lingerie and laces with pinstripes, flirty silk camisoles with tailored trousers, with each and every piece made with an attention to the tiniest detail to ensure her clothes beautifully fit many different body types -- an aesthetic forged during the childhood she spent with her grandparents.

"How my grandparents put so much effort into the way they would look back in the days when you went to ballroom dances or an event, you didn't just pick up something from your closet," Vatanika recalled her earliest fascination with fashion.

"I was raised by my grandparents back in the time when if a woman wanted to get a dress, they wouldn't just pop by the malls. You asked the dressmakers to come to your house, they would show you the fabrics and you would choose every single detail together. Everything was made to measure. Both my grandparents are gorgeous. They're dressed beautifully, accordingly. I grew up with them and it's very delicate. My mum is a business woman so she's also dressed well but most of the time she would wear pantsuits. So when I saw my grandmother and my grandfather all dressed up, it's like, 'Oh my God, they are gorgeous!'.

"The pinstripes idea comes from my grandfather. He's my role model, my heart and soul. He always wore pinstripes, always -- his PJs, pantsuits and everything. I think when I put beautiful French lace with pinstripes, they just look so divine. These days, women can be whatever they want. They can have fun when they play dress up and as designer, I should have fun combining contrasting materials. You should be able to have a touch of fun whenever you go to meetings, shopping or going out."

Entering the local fashion scene in the early 2010s when the trend was shifting from vintage femininity towards a more modern and sexy sensibility pioneered by Milin, Vatanika debuted her first show on Elle Fashion Week's Young Designers runway alongside a crop of up-and-coming fashion aspirants who all came from an affluent family (namely Kemissara and Kwankao) -- a line-up that would raise eyebrows especially at a time when "fashion designer" was considered a cool job for rich kids and an easy ticket to social glitz and glam.

Vatanika didn't think much about it.

"I don't think of myself that way. [When I started] every day at work I'd think about how I'm going to make my company survive, how I'm gonna feed my team, how I'm going to stay on my own two feet. It's not about fame. It's about living. I think that's why we came this far because this is how I run it."

And she has indeed come far. Her impeccable sense of style and perfectionism, combined with Joy's sharp business sense, has turned the small house into one of the most successful fashion companies in Thailand. Vatanika herself is an idol for the young generation -- an ideal woman girls dream of becoming: beautiful, confident, sexy and highly successful.

With a swathe of the young female population all wanting a piece of her, Vatanika decided to give them just that -- and even much more. The designer recently launched a new project: a reality TV show, This Is Me Vatanika, which was premiered on her YouTube channel last Friday.

"We were talking in the bedroom, me and my sister. We're like, 'Our life is so dramatic, if we do a reality show, it would be fun. So, let's do it'."

But a TV show is never a low-cost project. With Vatanika's notorious perfectionism, everything is done in-house, meaning recruiting a whole new production team -- something her business-smart CEO wouldn't sign off too easily, unless she finds huge potential in it, of course.

"I think she has something that makes people want to know more about her," Joy said, in explaining her confidence in the company's new venture. "What people see of her now is just a small portion of who she really is. There's much more to her and it should be our opportunity to do something fun and exciting. I believe in her, she'd never do anything unless it's perfect. I wouldn't want to oppose her ideas because I know if she puts her mind to it, it would turn out great."

And what are those things we don't know about her that would surprise us? Well, the debut episode revealed her obsessive streak (like requiring everyone who visits her house to use only one of the two wash basins in the restroom because the other one is just "for show", or her old habit of putting money in the fridge, for example) and that new look! For those who haven't got a chance to watch the show, Vatanika was transformed into a bumpkin: bald brows, mushroom head, nerd glasses and zero make-up for an undercover mission to see her copycats at a market.

"Maybe the whole reality thing is just their way of getting back at me, making me do crazy things and let the whole world know about it," Vatanika said with a laugh, before concluding our conversation with her expectations for the show.

"From the beginning, I was always looking forward to the good things, but we're also looking forward to comments as well. We won't take things personally, or we would't be professional. We work as a team, not just me as designer. If there are comments we could use to improve ourselves, to make our work better, we're happy to take them in our stride."

This Is Me Vatanika is aired every Friday at 6.49pm on Vatanika's YouTube channel.

The Vatanika show at Elle Fashion Week 2016.


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