Sun, Oct 19, 2003 - Page 11 News List

APEC means ethnic costume photo-op

REUTERS , THA SAWANG, THAILAND

Canadian bomber jackets, Indonesian batik, Mexican home-spun and Chinese brocade.

The obligatory end-of-summit photocall for Asia-Pacific leaders has thrown up a bizarre array of local couture over the years, some of it haute, some of it less so.

This year, Thailand has pulled out all the stops, choosing to kit out the likes of US President George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in gold-weave silk shirts and shawls literally fit only for kings and queens.

Beavering away in a sleepy farming town in northern Thailand for the last eight months, 140 specialist weavers have hand-spun gold brocade material so ornate it used to be the sole preserve of the ancient southeast Asian kingdom's royal family.

"This type of silk cloth is usually worn by members of the royal family or aristocrats given it by the king," royal tailor Prapab Louis-prasert told reporters.

"Common people like us have no right to wear it," Louisprasert added.

Adorned with pictures of elephants, peacocks and mythical lions, the outfits worn by the 21 leaders of the APEC summit should give a much-needed boost to a 700-year-old but dying tradition.

Weaving around the clock in teams of five in a specially built factory around 500km northeast of the capital Bangkok, it takes eight hours to produce just five centimetres of cloth -- not that the workers are complaining.

"It's a good opportunity for me," said 24-year-old weaver Sudawan. "I'll get experience of how to weave like this and take it on to my next job."

As well as different colors for the various leaders, designers have had to account for the very different sizes of the presidents and premiers, from the imposing figure of Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong to the somewhat shorter Putin.

The Philippines' Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Indonesia's Megawati Sukarnoputri and New Zealand's Helen Clark, the women at the summit, will also get shawls.

While epitomising all the elegance and opulence of ancient Thailand, the shirts, which will only be worn for an hour or so, come with a hefty price tag.

The royal tailors are tight-lipped about the cost, although one local newspaper reported that a long-sleeved number with a traditional Chinese-style collar costs a whopping 110,000 baht (US$2,759) -- nearly US$500 more than the average Thai earns in a year.

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