A year after stealing the hearts of netizens with a famous photo of her skirt train trailing down a staircase in the country, Madeow has left behind her rural life in Isaan to come to Bangkok, where she is quickly finding success as a young designer.
Now 17, the internet sensation that humbly gave herself the nickname “upcountry Katoey model,” has been featured as a guest designer on Asia’s Next Top Model. On the popular modeling show, Apichet “Madeow” Atirattana wowed the audience with upcountry-inspired designs like those that made her famous — costumes made of things found near her Isaan home such as chicken coops, banana leaves, and hay.
Madeow’s rise to fame started when she shared photos of herself modeling her humble but exquisite creations online. Soon, netizens were spellbound by Madeow. They loved that she had the daring spirit and the imagination to create these looks from the simplest household objects and pull them off with grace.
Asked what qualities she believed made her successful at such a young age, she said, “My creativity and guts to do something people don’t do. My creativity is not made up or distorted. It’s spontaneous and real.”
She explained how her earliest outfits were created by saying, “At that point, whatever I could find, I had to make it work because I came from nothing. I’m a kateoy. I wanted to play modeling, but I didn’t have beautiful dresses, so I put together stuff around my house and wore it.”
“All the houses in Isaan have this fabric. They lay it down for monks to sit on at funerals. I stole this from my granny to do this photoshoot,” Madeow explained of the backstory for her most famous photo.
In those days, when she wasn’t modeling her fabulous designs on the internet, Madeow, who lived near a mountain in the Ban Fang district of Khon Kaen, said she would help her parents sell vegetables at the market.
She was lucky enough to grow up in a loving home where she came out at a very young age. Madeow recalled that her father bought her a doll to play with when she was just a child.
“My dad was the person who bought me a Barbie when I was in kindergarten. Then I would ask other people for scraps of fabric to make clothes for my doll,” Madeow said.
Many people wonder what space cake Madeow has been eating to come up with her out-of-this-world outfits? The teen designer responded that she never really put too much thought into it, but she has a habit of writing down ideas immediately so that she doesn’t forget them. She has created over 30 outfits that went viral when photos of them were shared online.
“It takes about 10-20 minutes [to make an outfit]. I had to see what I had at home because I could not afford to buy anything,” she said.
“Fashion can be anything: the past, present or future. It’s anything that you wear and you feel comfortable in. People might not get it, but it’s your fashion. You are different,” Madeow added.
“The top is a chicken coop, but the bottom are vegetable baskets. I was helping my mom peel vegetables and, after I finished, I just made myself a skirt!”
“My favorite dress is the one made of banana leaves because it has layers. I think the design would be wearable if it was made of real fabric.”
At this point in the interview, I asked Madeow to think of an outfit made of Coconuts. She immediately responded with a beach dress idea.
“I would dry the coconut shells and weave them so it becomes fabric. It could be a beach outfit… Hawaiian style.”
After her success on Asia’s Next Top Model, where she designed outfits for nine contestants, Madeow is preparing to launch her own clothing line “Koma” — a collaboration with celebrity designer Kongpat “Ong” Sidapithak.
While no details could be revealed yet, don’t expect chicken coop-inspired outfits. Madeow said the clothes will be casual street wear that anyone can easily mix-and-match. Koma is likely to be sold online.
Asked what would be her next step, the aspiring designer said that she’d like to keep on doing what she loves — designing clothes. She has also been given a scholarship to study fashion at Bangkok University.
“I want to get to the point where every person in the world owns clothes that I designed.”
Photos: Apichet “Madeow” Atirattana