Getting Decked Out in Monkey Suits

Phisit Jongnarangsin and Saksit Pisalasupongs with the lovely Siti Khalijah, who plays Sandy. For Sandy's costume, the designers invented a new Oriental lattice design, which they printed in their workshop in Bangkok.

Meet Saksit Pisalasupongs and Phisit Jongnarangsin of Bangkok’s visionary Tube Gallery. Two of Thailand’s most celebrated fashion designers and theatre afficionados, they are the creators of the inspired, lavish costumes you’ll be seeing in our annual holiday pantomime, Monkey Goes West! We chat with Saksit about the duo’s inspiration for Monkey Goes West and why they love working in the Singapore theatre industry.

How did you come to work with W!LD RICE on Monkey Goes West?

We were approached to work on this project by Ivan Heng and Sebastian Tan. We have known Ivan for a long time and have admired his great talent both in acting and directing. So it was very exciting for us to receive such an invitation. We had also enjoyed working with Sebastian on 881 The Musical. So, when we knew that he was directing the show, we immediately said yes.

Were you familiar with the Journey To The West story on which the pantomime is based?

We have known the story since we were kids. It is a very well-known story throughout Asia. Personally, I love the fantasy and magic of the story. So it was not difficult for us to understand and identify with the characters.

The Tube Gallery’s costume sketches for Monkey and Princess Iron-Fan.

What was your inspiration for your costume designs in Monkey Goes West?

The colourful statues in Haw Par Villa was our inspiration! This was suggested by W!LD RICE from the beginning, but it suited our style perfectly. We did a lot of research via the Internet and old films. However, more important than research is the imagination. We believe it is the key to success for a production of this kind.

You also run a very successful fashion gallery. Tell us a little bit about the Tube Gallery.

This is our fifteenth anniversary in the fashion business. Tube Gallery is based in Bangkok but also sells in international markets. We have been showcasing our collections in different countries: from Paris to Beijing, Sydney to London, and most of the capital cities in South-East Asia which, of course, includes Singapore. Both Phisit and I have theatre backgrounds, so our style is rather dramatic and colourful. When people ask about our style, my answer is usually, “Anything but minimalist!”.

Saksit and Phisit helping Lim Kay Siu try on his King Bull armour (with Sebastian cheering them on!)
The metallic sleeve of the armour is fashioned out of traditional beaten silver paillettes that the designers sourced from a Thai hill tribe.

What keeps you coming back to designing costumes for the theatre?

We both come from theatrical backgrounds. I did my degree in directing at Middlesex University in England, whereas Phisit is a trained ballet dancer. So theatre has always been one of our loves and interests. In fact, we were working in the theatre – I was directing and Phisit was dancing – before we set up the Tube Gallery as a fashion house. It was only some time after that that we started designing theatre costumes in Thailand, and were subsequently offered opportunities to work in Singapore. So it is a real blessing for us both to be able to do theatre again.

How is the process of designing for the theatre different from designing for your fashion gallery?

The difference between fashion and theatre work is, when you do fashion design, you set yourself up as the centre of the universe. But when you do theatre design, you become part of a universe. You learn to listen, change, and adapt. It actually helps us to learn more as designers.

Saksit and Phisit adjusting Sugie Phua’s costume during our Monkey photoshoot.
Note the monkey on Monkey’s shoulder –
a stunning detail woven into his leather armour that is at once beautiful and a powerful metaphor.

Tell us about your experiences of working in the theatre industry in Singapore.

We have had such great experiences working in Singapore. We found that people really respect one another’s work here. People know how to have and express their own opinions, while at the same time genuinely listening to and respecting one another. We have also enjoyed great support from the various production teams, especially the wardrobe departments, in different theatre companies in Singapore. It would be impossible for us to do our work here without them.

We are so lucky to have received a very warm welcome from the industry. We really did not expect to win the Best Costume Design award for 881 The Musical in the 12th Straits Times Life! Theatre Awards in 2012. At the time, we considered ourselves to be outsiders. In so many other countries, the prejudice against us would have been there. When we won the award, we understood completely just how open-minded and welcoming the Singapore theatre scene is.

Do you have any advice for students or young theatre practitioners who are thinking of becoming costume designers in the future?

Work hard. Play hard. Nothing more, nothing less.

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