By KUPLUTHAI PUNGKANON
WITH THE cool season now in progress and a slight chill in the morning air, it’s time to dig out the scarves from our wardrobes or perhaps buy a few from the best-known and much-loved maker of silk and other scarves – Jim Thompson.
For more six decades, the brand has worked on constantly evolving its design and production processes – from farming to weaving, to designing, and to finished products. A variety of patterns reflect the brand’s creativity, among them animal prints such as tiger, elephant, pheasant, cockatoo, mythical animals, as well as the jungle, orchids, banana leaf, rice fields, Thai traditional porcelain, and Southeast Asian culture.
The classic and contemporary designs also incorporate art by old and young generation artists while Jim Thompson’s fabric such as jacquard, silk twill, silk chiffon and hand-woven silks stand out for their unique qualities. All of these factors combine to make Jim Thompson scarves popular among customers around the world.
“Jim Thompson scarves are the brand’s signature product,” says Tinnart Nisalak, design director. “Production began in 1965 and most of the designs reflect Jim Thompson’s identity and our founder’s rare art pieces and archives, which highlight Southeast Asian culture and identity. These include the ‘Rainforest’ pattern, which was developed from a rare art piece and was incorporated into Jim Thompson’s clothing collection during its founding period around 1960.
“Jim Thompson also has special collaborative collections on which we work with many renowned Thai and international artists such as Ithipol Thangchalok, Suthipa Kamyam, Phannapast Taychamaythakool, and Kirsten Synge. All of these talented individuals have been able to reflect the Southeast Asian identity very well through their work. For example, the tiger pattern from the Thai and foreign perspectives are very different even though it is the same tiger. A mythical animal like the Naga (serpent-like creatures believed to live in the Mekong river) reflects the belief in abundance. Our scarves are very colourful and take their cue from the founder’s porcelain collection, making them truly distinctive.”
Apart from pattern, what makes Jim Thompson Scarves stand out from other brands is the fabric, which is manufactured using a high-quality production process and is woven at Jim Thompson’s facility in Nakhon Ratchasima province, where advanced technology has been deployed to ensure quality control. “The special shining quality of Thai silk occurs due to the local technique of using weft and warp yarns. To create patterned fabrics, we use anything between two takor (“heddle”) and 10,650 takor,” she adds.
Four types of scarf fabrics are currently available. Jacquard scarves are woven using highly skilled and intricate techniques, making them a rare find. The machinery used for this type of fabric allows for full control of the weaving direction, which creates vibrant colours and patterns that mirror the appearance of paintings. The weaving technique also results in a reversible design, with a different range of colours on the front and back, showing off its unique beauty.
Jim Thompson twill is special because of how the silk is woven. The ground of the fabric shows a pattern of diagonal parallel ribs called twill, which is soft, pliable, crease-resistant and strong when compared to non-twill fabric. The patterns created by the twill technique have been constantly developed and today Jim Thompson has more than 2,000 designs.
Each print is first hand-drawn by highly skilled artists with 30 years of experience. Each pattern takes more than three months to draw, depending on size, complexity, details and colours. The drawing then undergoes colour separation prior to printing. The colour separation process requires a skilled hand to master and that person must understand printing techniques and the concept of beauty at the same time.
The machinery ranges from antique wooden printers, screen printers to modern-day or digital printers so as to make patterns clearly visible on both sides of the silk twill scarves. The edges are hand-sewn so that the scarf looks flat.
With its crepe-like and light texture, silk chiffon creates an overlay of patterns when used for scarves. Durability of the raw silk material is processed until it becomes light yet strong. Highly advanced technology is introduced into the production process such as tie-dying, filament colour spraying, as well as the use of filaments that carry special features to turn the product into a piece of art, a combination of handmade and modern techniques. The threads used in every Jim Thomson hand-woven scarf cannot be woven by machine. It is truly a work of high aesthetic value.
Besides the four fabrics, Jim Thompson is developing new types of scarves to meet all kinds of demands and lifestyles. These include silk cashmere, which combines the lustrous smoothness and shininess of silk with the warmth of cashmere. The result is a light-texture fabric made from tiny cashmere filaments coated for durability. After the weaving process, the coating is washed away, leaving only pure silk and cashmere, which is extremely soft yet light. “Pleat” scarves have been developed so that the pleats do not disappear after washing, a quality rarely found in other pleat products, mostly made from synthetic filaments. Silk Modal, meanwhile, is a naturally-synthesised filament with characteristics just like cotton – easy to take care of, smooth and soft like silk, while airy and cool to wear. It gives a casual feeling and optimum comfort, with a touch of luxury from the silk.