The Chapter And Verse Of Poem's Chavanon Caisiri
Among Thailand’s most successful home-grown fashion brands is Poem, which was established 14 years ago by 36-year-old Chavanon Caisiri. Sean, as he is more commonly known, graduated from Chulalongkorn University with a degree in architecture but immediately felt the pull of the world of fashion, a longing that he says began with his mother, a dressmaker who taught him the intricacies of the craft at a young age. His yen for fashion design—along with his tailoring skills—became further attuned at Chula. “It was as a student that I got my first real hands-on experience making costumes for the university’s theatrical productions,” he explains.
Indulging in his love for fashion after graduation, in 2006 at the tender age of 22 Sean opened Poem. From the outset his style was influenced by the designers he admired growing up—iconic individuals such as Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and Valentino Clemente Ludovico Garavani—and his clothes evoked the unique glamour of the 1940s, 50s and 60s. He wasn’t afraid to innovate either and raised eyebrows when he introduced a re-imagined corset. “At the time I felt like there was still a widespread misconception about corsets—a garment usually condemned as an anachronistic instrument of torture used to oppress women,” he smiles wryly. “Poem’s reinterpretation of it as something that complements the body’s natural shape—rather than fighting it—also helped to create our confidence-boosting signature silhouettes. Underpinning all this, I wanted the brand to represent the Thai dressmaking culture that I experienced growing up, but with a contemporary take.”
That contemporary element is informed by Sean’s architectural background and the creative director says much of what he learned at university has applications in his fashion work. In fact, the name Poem itself is taken from architectural theories of aesthetics—provocative, transformative and poetic. “Of course there is an architectural aspect to designing clothes—you are building sculptural forms layer by layer and you must always keep functionality in mind. Finding the balance between art and mechanical science to achieve the desired aesthetic, that is key to the craft,” he says.
The designer embarked on his journey at a time when the country’s economy was fragile and the political climate unstable but today Poem has become synonymous with the best of Thai couture and the brand’s elaborate dresses and evening gowns can often be seen adorning the great and good at the most prestigious events in Thailand and overseas. A sign of this recognition is manifest in the invitation Sean received last year to participate in the Xi’an International Fashion Week and the recent opening of a flagship store in Shanghai, Poem’s first outside Thailand. “It is an incredible milestone for us and to accomplish it during a pandemic was a miracle,” Sean sighs.
The arrival of Covid-19 has meant that like many other businesses Poem has had to adapt to move forward. But Sean remains upbeat. “Sure, we’ve had to strengthen our online presence to accommodate the new way of life. There is no doubt that the mindset of people is shifting, which has implications across the board. Large-scale weddings are now less preferred with brides going for smaller, more intimate events. That means the dresses and outfits people want tailored are less grand although still focussing on the details. Things like this present new challenges but also new opportunities.”
When he’s not overseeing design sessions, work in the atelier and plotting in-roads to new markets, the laid-back creative director leads a humble life in which quality time with family is of the most importance. He keeps in reasonable fettle through the occasional jog and yoga sessions and tunes out through photography. He is also fond of travel, particularly favouring Japan for its ordered serenity and Paris, the world’s fashion capital, for obvious reasons. “In fact, the first place I’m going to visit when this pandemic is over is Paris—more specifically my favourite spot in the city, the Palais Royale,” he says.
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