The establishment of the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles in the compound of the Grand Palace embodies the effort to ensure the preservation of Thailand’s textile arts for future generations. The museum’s mission is to collect, display, preserve, and serve as a centre for all who wish to learn about textiles, past and present, from East, South and Southeast Asia with a special emphasis on Thailand’s royal court and Queen Sirikit. Additionally, the Museum’s goal is to create public awareness of Thai identity and culture, and an appreciation of the beauty of Thai traditional textiles through research, exhibition and interpretation.
In 1960, King Bhumibol from Thailand, accompanied by his wife Queen Sirikit undertook a series of state visits to the United States and 15 European nations lasting seven months. The tour was a tremendous success. Their Majesties were enthusiastically received everywhere and Queen Sirikits beauty and stylish elegance were both widely acclaimed.
Queen Sirikit knew that when abroad she would be representing both Thailand and Thai women. Thus, in addition to Western high fashion, she wished her wardrobe to contain Thai styles that would convey the country’s unique cultural identity. However, court dress had steadily westernized since the mid 19th century and in 1941 the government issued a decree requiring all Thais to wear Western clothing. As a result post war Thailand had no national dress equivalent to India’s sari or Japan’s kimono – it would have to be created.
Preparations for the tour began nearly two years in advance. Queen Sirikit led a team of consultants and advisors that included historians, prominent ladies of the court. Her longtime Thai fashion designer Urai Lueumrung and other local designers. Eventually, the team also came to include Pierre Balmain, the French couturier designing the Queen’s Western-style wardrobe for the tour. Drawing on diverse sources including surviving court textiles and photographs of women of the court taken between 1850 and 1925. The Queen and the team created a group of dresses based upon the wrapped and draped styles Thai women had traditionally worn – hip wrappers (phaa nung) and shoulder cloths (sabai) but constructed according to Western dressmaking techniques. The result as can be seen in this gallery, was a new national dress designed to honour the past while conveying a practical, modern Thai identity.
Queen Sirikit, 1962
Horst P. Horst (German, working in the US, 1906-1999)
Published in Vogue, 1. July 1962
From the time of Queen Sirikits 1960 state visits she impressed with her beauty and elegant wardrobe, for which she was named to the 1960 Best Dressed List. In 1965, she became the first Asian woman to top the list for what was described as her native gowns of gorgeous Thai silks as well as smart western clothes by Balmain of Paris. Hailed as a fashion symbol for the world, Queen Sirikit was elevated to the Best Dressed Hall of Fame in 1965.