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Happy for the Thais That Influence

Culture And Design / Fashion * First In An Occasional Series

May 18, 1995|DENISE HAMILTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The stars found their way onto Van Buren's Lycra tops last season under the name "Star Bright." Next season, a knockoff may find its way back to Bangkok's streets, where such designer shops as Moschino, Gaultier, Dolce & Gabbana and Chanel sit cheek by jowl with stores that knock off all those brands.

Barry and Moore rode around town in tuk-tuks, the little motorized bicycles that zip up and down Bangkok's narrow streets. Out of that came a feather boa miniskirt designed "for the active girl, jumping in and out of her tuk-tuk, " Barry jokes.

The \o7 tuk-tuks\f7 --as well as the bikes, cars and almost anything with a flat surface in Thailand--are decorated with huge bumper stickers bearing Thai inscriptions "that looked like graffiti skateboard art," Moore says.

Van Buren reaps financial as well as creative benefits from the Thailand trips. The exposure during last year's "Thai Supermodel" competition landed them accounts with monster department stores Seibu in Hong Kong and Isetan in Singapore.

Van Buren's clothes will also be advertised on the svelte person of Christina Aguilar, a pop superstar known as "The Thai Madonna." Aguilar ordered a large quantity of Van Buren's latest line, Moore says.

Being culturally sensitive also helps Van Buren ply both sides of the Pacific Rim. For its spring, 1994, line for instance, Van Buren Sport featured wheat-colored cotton separates with large Buddha buttons inspired by a favorite ring of Barry's.

Although they sold well in the United States, Barry knew better than to take them to Asia, where putting the religious diety's face on a mundane button might strike many as sacrilegious.

Within five years however, Barry predicts that the Thais will have found a postmodernist sense of irony similar to that which makes La Virgen de Guadalupe a cult favorite as well as a religious icon plastered on everything from gearboxes to candles and leather jackets sold on Melrose.

"As a designer, everything you see gets dropped into that melting pot in your brain," Barry says. "You have to stay plugged in visually, and we're mostly inspired by colors, architecture and patterns. All that's being mashed in our heads. Eventually, it will come out"

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