The Mixmaster of Fashion
Madaew’s breakthrough came last summer, when he borrowed a bolt of traditional Thai checkered cloth from his grandmother and crafted a long dress, picturing it trailing 30 ft. down the concrete steps of a bleak freeway footbridge. The merging of old-country culture, youthful glamor and urban decay was shared thousands of times on social media and he became a new kind of viral celebrity.
Before long TV talk and talent shows were knocking on Madaew’s door, and he even appeared as a guest designer on Asia’s Next Top Model. “He inspires others to challenge the norm, to break the mold, and to explore new and exciting possibilities,” says veteran Thai-American supermodel Cindy Bishop, the show’s host. “I see him as an influencer and trendsetter for years to come. He celebrates the very essence of what it means to be Thai.”
While everywhere suffers its share of bigotry, one of Thai culture’s most laudable traits is acceptance of different sexual orientations. Madaew felt free from a young age to embrace his identity as kathoey, a transgender female sometimes referred to as Thailand’s “third sex.” Madaew (who prefers to be known by the male pronoun) pays tribute to his parents for never trying to change who he was, letting him play with girls and dress up Barbie girls without feeling ashamed..