Think of Thailand and you will likely think of elaborate golden temples, smiling Buddhas, bustling markets and twinkly-eyed elephants. Paris, and you may think of timeless chic, neoclassical grandeur, cobbled streets, and glass-fronted brasseries, whose mouth-watering aromas can seduce the most determined luncher to linger just a little longer over another espresso or glass of wine. California, and your mind might wander to sinewy golden beaches lined with palm trees, sun-drenched vineyards, fusion cuisine, and boho style.
Tai Rittichai’s story is a story of a journey between these three very different parts of the world. And while this itself is not unique—travel and relocation provide the foundation for generations of stories—what makes Tai’s journey distinctive is that it is in a sense ongoing, finding continuous expression in her jewelry creations. Perhaps it less a journey than a conversation.
Tai’s delicate, intricate and often colorful work melds the more traditional eastern design features of her native Thailand, with the romance and sophistication of vintage flea markets in Paris and the minimal, contemporary elegance of California. It is a novel union that affords breadth both in terms of vision and production, relying on traditional handcrafting techniques to realize objects that reference these discrete cultures and that simultaneously embrace both the past and the present.
Tai is committed to creating what she terms ‘objects of desire’ for cultured urban people, and she does so with equal commitment to the craftsmanship that she learned at her mother’s knee. Her works are labor intensive and require attention to detail. She works closely with her sister, who is deeply involved in the business. All their pieces are produced by skilled local Thai artisans, whom Tai employs with the aim of keeping the art of handcrafted jewelry alive. She is actively involved with charities at home in Thailand and in the United States and regularly travels between the two. But wherever she is, she is always busy creating, whether in her mind, on a stroll through a market, or by simply being open to the inspiration a chance encounter might bring.
Tai is the embodiment of the virtues of travel and the benefits of cultural diversity. She spent her childhood in Bangkok, learning the craft of jewelry making from her mother, also a skilled jewelry designer. Tai’s innate talent and creativity were driving forces that pushed her to extend her skills, explore possibilities and discover the potential for a style entirely her own. Years later, Tai moved to Fresno, California, where she got her degree, and from there to Los Angeles, where she embarked on her own adventure trying to fill a niche by creating high-quality fashion jewelry with the finishing and detail of fine jewelry. It was at the flea market in Santa Monica that her pieces were spotted; from one simple design, a whole collection was born.
Tai has long been drawn to the retro sophistication of the Parisian flea markets, where blissful hours of strolling go some way to satisfying her passion for vintage jewelry and furniture design. These markets, a living legend, combine a distinctly French charm, sophistication and eccentricity, with a universal appreciation for style and innovation. The Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen at Clignancourt, and Les Puces de Montreuil, are institutions in themselves, renowned worldwide not just as shopping resources where it’s possible to find anything from old cameras and antique toys to Art Deco objets and Eames chairs, but as romantic destinations where it is impossible not to be captivated by the nostalgic glamor that pervades everything. Long gone are the days of the rag-and-bone men; the Puces, as it is affectionately known, is, at seven hectares, the largest flea market in the world, and it is more a living museum than the image that the term ‘flea market’ conjures up. Stores like Les Merveilles de Babellou, home to names like Canovas, Dior and St Laurent, ooze theatricality. Rainbow-colored ranks of vintage clutch bags and displays of articulated rings, one-of-a-kind brooches and vintage cuff bracelets afford the hungry eye and active imagination the opportunity to run rampant. It is a paradise for anyone interested in art and design and open to inspiration.
This background explains the discreet bohemianism that defines Tai’s work. She works with a combination of materials to achieve something that is refreshing, that appeals in its originality, but that taps into a deeper-rooted sense of style. Her references are eclectic: there is a clear debt to nature, with the leaves, flowers, star clusters and raindrops that adorn her earrings and bracelets. There are geometric and organic forms, swirls, and knots, abstract motifs that call to mind the stylized traditions of Thai art, particularly when incorporated with colorful silk braid, miniature tassels and pom-poms. Some of her pieces are punctuated with colorful dots, that look like eyes, and even playful smiles that evoke the good nature of the Thai people. Her pieces can feel as robust as they can look ethereal, but they transport with their delicacy, alive with the luminous translucency of the semi-precious stones that she rigorously selects for quality.
It is this magical combination of elements that defines Tai’s work. Wearing a piece of her jewelry is like wearing something of the world, something elusive reconfigured in miniature to suit a moment while transcending time and place.