Reflekt Muse: Manrutt W.
Clash of proportions, extreme juxtaposition of multi-cultural sources of inspirations, and layers of contrasting patterns make up Manrutt Wongkaew, a chief visionary in fashion-performance who will soon be awarded a doctorate in fashion-dance studies in both practice and research. Bangkok boy turned London sartorialist who infuses fashion, art into every aspect of his life. An fan of Savile Row tailoring and Punk deconstruction Manrutt or Mannie has fully embraced his London surroundings. We have a chat with Mannie at South bank surrounded by Big Ben, the London Eye and the National theatre. Wearing a heavily studded denim vest, oversized straw top hat, Comme Des Garcons asymmetrical shirt we take a look into his journey so far. Read the rest of his style story in Issue º12 Travel.
What was your upbringing like?
I was born in Bangkok, Thailand. My family is an upper middle class in Bangkok. Very educational family. Everyone has a phd. I was pressured to also get a phd so I decided if I’m going to get one it might as well be unique. selling point fall into place accidentally that opens up another scholarly world.
My mom is in medicine, my dad is an architect, brother studied in Purdue, and my sister is getting her phd in accounting. I’m considered the pink sheep of the family. What I saw from my parents is that they're not happy. They have money and qualifications but that doesn’t equal happiness. I go out to observe people, how people survive. My family life was protected. There’s life out there, outside of uni. People who don’t follow the educational path have much more life experience and knowledge. I moved to London in 2000 mainly to study, do the Carrie Bradshaw thing of looking for love, see the opportunity and meet new people.
What is your occupation?
Everything under the umbrella of creative consultant, fashion designer, performer, styling, personal shopper, dancer, published writer and studying for my PHD.
What is your thesis about?
My PhD thesis, “Terpsichore in Jimmy Choo: A Visual Mapping of the Interrelationships between Dance and High Fashion Economies,” has opened up my creative vision that challenges the existing status quo in both dance and fashion practice. My thesis outcomes have bridged the knowledge between both disciplines that many scholarly studies overlook.
How did your style develop?
I have always loved fashion and dance since a young age. I recall draping a towel over my shoulders on bias and wearing it as a gown, before and after bath-time. When I was around 9, I remember trying on my sister’s mint tutu as she was dancing in the school’s ballet production paying homage to the king of Thailand in the role of the blossoming lotus.
Since high-school, I have always been a rebel. Either with or without the cause, I was struggling to strike a balance between ‘fitting in’ and ‘standing out.’ Looking back at my rebellious fashion code, I saw it as a political strategy of a teenager who was hoping to eliminate or survive the bullying without losing my emergence as a flamboyant queer.
What fascinates you?
I think I’m always fascinated by people. My art was transferred from my dad. I do believe things happen for a reason. Because I went into textiles that now got me into fashion. I missed my entry into architecture school by one point so I enrolled into industrial design. I want to finish my phd and see into curating fashion onto body. Artistic direction curating into product.
How does dance play into your personal style?
By being trained as a dancer I have to be aware of my body and space, and how the body looks. I’m in touch with feeling and physical self. I set a theme with my clothes. I dress depending on my mood or counteract my mood and balance. If I feel down, I dress the opposite with lots of energy for clothes. I went to the V&A Savage beauty exhibit of Alexander McQueen and wore Alexander McQueen pants inspired by light and shape, gold fringe jumper, clash of things and feeling. I want to reflect the physical and emotional self.
How do you think people react to how you dress?
Learning more about myself through the lens of psychotherapy and counselling, I have discovered that there is an overlapping shape between my “image” and my “essence” in relation to how I dress. Quite often, I have been judged by what I wear because some people only see it as an image they assumed I ‘project’ onto the world. However, I dress to satisfy myself the most. Of course, to certain degrees, I do seek out external validation. Compliments from others do enhance my self-esteem. I aim to strike a healthy balance between internal and external validation.
As a result, for the past few months, I have witnessed how my outfits have triggered a friendly response. One woman stood up from her seat on the London underground and walked across the carriage to give me a hug. She thanked me for the visual satisfaction my personal styling brought her, which has cheered her on up her long and tiresome day. On another occasion, I wore Vivienne Westwood’s oversized straw top hat together with Paul Smith’s denim blazer and Jil Sander indigo Bermuda shorts. All of the compliments received that day came from straight guys, even from a butch builder bloke who I thought would have made a joke out of me. I felt truly honoured that they threw me compliments rather than a stone or hurtful commentaries.
As I feel much more comfortable in my own skin and continue to reflect my personal well-being through clothes, I believe that it radiates positive energy that attracts like-minded people in my surroundings. My therapists once said: ‘By shining, we allow others around us to shine too’. I strongly believe that deep down inside, we all want the same thing. We are all human. We seek acceptance, love, attention and care and we can be connected despite our differences in age, race, gender, class and sexuality.
What is one style tip that you do that you wouldn't really recommend to someone else?
Do not wear rocking horse ballerina shoes during rush hour on the tube and don't wear fashion shoes without socks where you have to rush from show to show. Trial and error. There’s nothing I wouldn't tell to someone else. It’s about learning (learned from sex and the city) press reboot and keep going.
Has London affected your fashion sense?
My sense of style has vastly developed during my time in London. I have discovered and re-assembled my personal identities through taking part in many London-subcultures –from punk to burlesque and from leather fetish to drag. My artistic vision was refined when I enrolled in London art schools (Central Saint Martins, London Studio Centre, and Laban) and worked as an intern at Paul Smith in East London for the LFW collection. All of my personal, vocational, and professional journeys allow me to craft my personal styles that push boundaries and challenge the existing status quo, in both fashion and performance, on a daily basis.
When clothes shopping what are you looking for in a clothing item?
Clothing items I purchase must have one of the following qualities: 1) one-of-a-kind or never-been-seen flat pattern cuttings; 2) vivid colours or unusual textures; 3) quirky or elaborate prints; and 4) reasonable price tags that match its commodity worth as well as socio-artistic values. At present, through therapy and group support, I am much happier in my own skin. Therefore, vivid colours, playful proportions and courageous prints grasp my immediate attention. Quite often, you will see me juxtapose British tailoring with avant-garde draped skirts or tunic dresses which are then accessorised by chunky loafers, multi-coloured brogues, or Acne’s gel heels together with football socks, leather straps, or a harness worn over a suit. As there is limited space in my wardrobe, I have to LOVE each garment, as there is no room (and extra-disposable income) for just “LIKES”…and silver-winged moths are always my worst enemy!
Do you think you have the typical “Dancer” sense of style?
Dancers dress for comfort-I don’t. Less is bore.
What is your advice or life mantra for Reflekt readers?
Do not be afraid to follow your heart and nurture your creative inner child. We all have unique ‘voices’ so let the world hear what you would like to say.