The jewellery designer using flowers to highlight gender equality in Thailand
Sarran Youkongdee also scents his creations – which fans describe as wearable art – with incense burners, in accordance with an ancient Thai practice.
Flowers are a recurring motif in Bangkok-based Thai jewellery designer Sarran Youkongdee’s work.
“I get ideas from Thai flower craft. One of the garlands I like most is the one made with jasmine. We see delicate flowers coming together to produce something that holds beautifully,” he said, adding that his own home garden is filled with those very blooms.
“It’s a flower I’ve been attached to since young, as my mother would gather them to make her own garlands. To me, it is representative of Thai women,” he added.
The multi-talented Srinakharinwirot University fine-arts graduate began his career as a film-maker, then later, a home interior and lifestyle designer, gaining recognition and winning design awards for handmade furniture and home-decor items made from eco-friendly locally-grown materials such as banana trees and bamboo matting.
"I told the story of a woman who visited the temple in the morning but was not allowed to enter some areas. The light from the temple cast shadows on her body and arms, and because of that, she was able to participate through the shadows."
“My mother is my inspiration. She was a single parent, and she struggled for me and my siblings, whether it was getting a job or raising us in an ever-changing society. I can still remember her sitting in the kitchen making artificial flowers, dolls and cakes (to sell). She did everything to raise us,” said the 36-year-old.
“The turning point was the question of how I can tell these stories. I decided to use jewellery to effectively communicate and reach my desired group – women.”
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Youkongdee established his jewellery brand Sarran in 2008. Inspired by Thailand’s culture, history and its women, his designs feature native flowers and traditional handicraft, re-interpreted through contemporary materials.
A recent collection, Rattanakosin Shadow, features flowers and shapes inspired by temple architecture, made of eco-friendly recycled paper. There are 13 pieces in all, including layered necklaces, earrings and bracelets resembling crown flowers, jasmine and chempaka.
“In this collection, I tell the story of gender equality. Women were unable to enter some places or work in certain jobs. I told the story of a woman who visited the temple in the morning but was not allowed to enter some areas. The light from the temple cast shadows on her body and arms, and because of that, she was able to participate through the shadows,” he explained.
"My mother is my inspiration. She was a single parent, and she struggled for me and my siblings... She did everything to raise us."
The pieces are also infused with floral fragrances using an incense burner – in accordance with an ancient Thai practice. “I found out that in the past, Thai women did not use perfume. Instead, they infused their clothes with flower-scented incense. Can you believe that some fabrics in the museums still have this scent until this day, even though hundreds of years have passed?” he marvelled.
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In 2016, Vogue Thailand awarded him the “Who’s On Next” title. Upmarket fashion and lifestyle emporium Club 21 has stocked his pieces since 2017. The Rattanakosin Shadow collection received recognition by the Tiffany & Co. Foundation, and some pieces are even on permanent exhibition in New York’s Museum of Art and Design.
“I feel what I make with my hands is the most important thing I can offer to my customers or to those who like my work. They view my work as art, made by an artist so there is no need for it to be worn according to the season or the trend. They wear the piece because they are proud of it and it shows their identity,” Youkongdee said.
Adapted from the series Remarkable Living. Watch full episodes on CNA, every Sunday at 8.30pm, starting December 1.