Nalin Satearrujikanon based in Bangkok, Thailand, is using her creativity and personal experiences to create space for individual expression. She doesn’t want herself or for her peers to fit into one specific box. Nalin is a model, photographer, designer, street caster and party organizer. With her work in both fashion and art she is using different mediums to support and highlight the queer community in Bangkok. The vision is clear. Finding and allowing one’s own identity is deeply rooted in her projects. From thoughts behind Nalin Chan Studio to model experiences and The Peppers Casting to nightlife with The Cayenne Peppers Party, Nalin gives us real insight into her community in Bangkok.
Could you tell me more about your projects and how it all started?
All my projects started mostly before and during COVID. But during COVID I was thinking a lot about what I actually like and want, besides modelling. I always wanted to do my own brand but never had the time for it. I saw the lockdown as a chance to start something new. The designs and fabrics I was searching for I didn´t find in any store or online shop, maybe in high-end fashion, but even if you can’t afford that, it is so important to wear clothing that represents you. Another project I´ve been doing for the past five years is photography—mainly portraits with film cameras and the party and street casting I started three years before COVID. With my casting work, I want to show interesting alternative people not because I want to build a model´s career, but I see a lot of beautiful people in my life and around, like friends or someone on the street who don’t even realize they have an unique look. I don’t follow the beauty standards, because I know how it feels like to stand out.
For how long have you been modelling?
In the Bangkok industry, for six years and for some time in Japan. I still remember how much fun it is when you’re not a “model model” but you want to be, it is somuch joy.
How did you get scouted?
The application process was long. I applied to a lot of agencies. So many agencies but they just said “no”, because of my gender as transgender and that I didn’t look like a “money-maker.” Being asian in the model industry you would have to look Chinese and be very skinny, and most importantly you have to be a woman.
How does the model industry look from a Bangkok perspective today?
Everything is getting better. We want to see something beautiful, and in Bangkok it tends to be the “standard” still. I am happy though to see more transgender models and more plus sized models entering the industry. But it’s our job to show the world someone that you think doesn’t look like a model at first sight. We are also here to be heard and seen.
Comparing the model industry in Bangkok with Tokyo, how was your experience?
I went to Tokyo for some time. It was in 2018 and it was so much fun but also a hard time. For more jobs I think it’s better for me to go to western countries because Asian models in Asia are not validated as highly as models with Eurocentric features. I was one of the first Thai people to stay in Tokyo as a model, and I had to pay so much more tax/commission than other girls. So, on this level, the industry in Japan seems to be more focused on classic beauty standards. Japan is a hard country to work in as a foreigner, but I got stronger after moving there for sure because Japan is tough.
You took some photos with your film camera at some special places you like in Bangkok, why did you choose these places specifically?
I love the old town. I love the way Bangkok is a combination of the old town and the modern town. Traditional and modern people coexist comfortably and respectfully alongside each other. People might think of temples, as if very little has changed in Thailand, but for me, it is the opposite. Bangkok is a nightlife and 24-hour city, like literally 24 hours. The places photographed shows some of my favorite districts of Bangkok and highlights the city vibe and architecture.
As you mentioned, Bangkok is a nightlife city. You are the organiser of The Cayenne Peppers Party, what is so special about this space?
In Thailand, I feel like I don’t belong anywhere. I mean nightlife should be a place where we can express ourselves and be whoever we want, but once you feel like you don’t belong there, you’re not supposed to be there, or you feel insecure—that is not fun. I am making this party for people who might feel this way and hopefully they can feel something different at my party. I want a space where everyone can have fun without any judgment, where we can dress up how we want. I am obsessed with the 80s era, Studio 54 or any party scene back then. Everybody is just having fun. I get jealous when I think of those times. The Cayenne Peppers Party is for my community as we have no other place to go in Thailand to express ourselves. When going to nightclubs you have gay clubs and straight clubs but what about transgender? What about us? We don’t belong anywhere. So, I hope my party is somewhere transgender people and everyone can feel safe and free.
Can you tell us a bit about the design process of your newest collection?
I try to only do iconic and most importantly timeless pieces. Every time I design something, I just have to love it first. Basically, for my second collection I am trying to develop the pieces from 1. Collection and add something new, but I will not leave the great things behind. I just develop them and understand and listen to the customers. What is happening or what is bad in the design and how can I improve it?I will wait until the next collection and I will sell the same, but a better version with some added design regulations. Also it is a more sustainable approach since we are not working with seasonal trends.
Who is the ultimate muse of your brand?
Is it weird if I just say I am my own muse? I see myself in these pieces and ask myself, would I feel comfortable?Yeah, so far I am my own muse for sure. I could imagine some legends from the 80s and 90s like Mick Jagger, Freddie Mercury or some other rock stars. I think about them a lot lately. I like to imagine what Mick Jagger would have worn when he was 25. Flared pants or maybe an oversized t-shirt?
How does Bangkok inspire you?
Patpong is the exact mirror image and one can find within its perimeter self-expression in almost every dimension. This is what I want to be close to, as these are the people whom I am designing for; those eager to push the boundaries of design but who are also regular people with regular jobs. They are the people I have in mind and I keep asking myself how I can represent their ideas and aspirations in garments that work for the different modes they inhabit at any given time of the day.
Where would you like to see your brand in five years?
Oh my god. I am so humble. I hope I’m not hating what I’m doing right now. I want the passion or the power of this moment and hopefully I can have a shop and everything but that is not important.
Last words on Nalin Chan Studio?
It’s been a long road and whilst I have found my own identity, I find purpose in helping my peers to find theirs through my clothing and my projects. There was never any doubt about who I am, and everyone is welcome in this tent, no matter gender or sexuality– the only condition is authenticity. I won’t accept anything less for myself or others.