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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Bagging For Attention

By Dzireena Mahadzir

A Thai designer makes unusual and beautiful bags from combining exotic skins with semi-precious stones. But it's all just a hobby to him.

PIROON Wacharamontri is an unlikely bag designer, considering his day job. A lawyer by training and profession, he makes handbags as a hobby.

But his bags, which are made of exotic skins and lambskin and embellished with semi-precious stones, have become so popular, his hobby might just become a full-time career!To date, his bags have been sold in Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and the United States, with high-end stores like Neiman Marcus and Lane Crawford carrying his designs. The latest market is Malaysia with his creations being sold at the new Tang's at Pavilion in Kuala Lumpur.

[Red and green dominate the Fall/Winter 2007 collection]

For now, however, the boyish Piroon, 34, is content to design the bags that do not even carry his name. In KL, they are being sold under the label, Bagatelle.

Piroon started making bags five years ago. His interest was sparked by his love for semi-precious stones. The leather was more like a canvas for him to play with the gems.

"It started when a friend in Hong Kong, who owns a gallery that sells jewellery, asked me to design some pieces. He said why not think up something different, so I ended up putting precious stones on bags. So the concept is more like semi-precious stones on good leather," he says during an interview in Bangkok.

"I have two lines, Seasonal and Classic. The Seasonal's first batch has only 15 bags. If they sell well, I'll make 30. The maximum number for each style is 50, and only two for each country.

However for my Classic line, I won't make more than 30 pieces. I also custom make pieces for my clients in Bangkok who tell me what they want."

[The Ibiza bag, perfect for parties]

Piroon gets his ideas from his travels; this season he was inspired by Spain, so the main colours are red and green.

His collections initially comprised clutch bags because he thinks they are sexy.

"But now I have moved to other bags. This Fall/Winter I'm using onyx, pearls, smoky quartz, tiger eyes and green jade. For Spring 2008, I am looking at corals and turquoise. Gold is the colour this year but silver is also popular, so I have chosen pewter. I like exotic skins, and I like amethysts and smoky quartz."

Piroon doesn't seem concerned with making very practical bags as most designs offer little room to hold things and yet are rather heavy. But there's no mistaking their wow factor. Carry one and you can expect attention. A Bagatelle is so well embellished, it could be the only accessory you need for the evening.

[Piroon Wacharamontri calls his creations jewellery bags]

Not surprisingly, Piroon says his customers are mainly in their 30s and older, as he believes you need to attain a certain level of sophistication to appreciate his bags.

"I don't like the word 'fashion', I prefer 'style'. Why don't you have your own style, be different. I call my bags jewellery bags."

What's interesting about these bags is that the stones are so beautiful that you feel like taking them off the bags and wearing them as jewellery. In fact, Piroon, says he has designed handbags where you can take the "handle" off and wear it as a necklace!

Although his bags are a hobby, Piroon does have his eye on expanding further: "I'm looking forward to distributing the bags in more countries, but in limited pieces. I don't want everyone carrying the same bag. I'd also like to design a home collection, I used to design candles with semi precious stones. Now I'm looking at the business aspect, so one thing I'd like to see is my bags being sold all over the world!"

*Bagatelle's Fall/Winter 2007 range, and Classic line are available at Tang & Co, Tang's, Pavilion, KL. Prices range from RM2,000 to RM3,500.

Courtesy of Clove Two

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