Jim Thompson left behind more than just a good story.
One day, the managing editor of this magazine and I were having lunch and discussing the phenomenon of Jim Thompson. I told him about the reaction to Jim Thompson products back in my home country. For years I’ve been giving my family Thai silk as gifts.
My brother has a whole bedroom suite of JT housewares and a closet full of silk ties. My mother used a set of four throw pillows to set the pallet for an entire household makeover. My sons have worn their JT fisherman pants to ragged threads.
From sarongs to placemats, Jim Thompson products are instant smash hits in a market overflowing with luxury goods. “Why is that?” I wondered. “What is so damned great about Jim Thompson stuff?”
My friend hit the nail on the head with his answer. “He’s like the Asian Ralph Lauren” he said. “His styles are both unique and classic at the same time”. Without a doubt that is the secret to the Jim Thompson. Nothing looks like it and it never seems to go out of style.
For the past two months we’ve been exploring the extraordinary life and times of Jim Thompson, the American socialite, turned spy, turned textile mogul … the king of Thai silk. While Mr. Thompson’s made for Hollywood life is certainly a good read, it is his legacy that is most impressive. Jim Thompson has been “missing” for 50 years but his un-rivaled style and taste are still with us. One visit to a Jim Thompson store will demonstrate that.
And, you have over 40 stores to choose from. From glitzy mega-stores like the one in Siam Paragon mall in Bangkok, to the swanky little boutique at the Koh Samui airport, the JT brand seems to pop up in the most opportune places.
To get the full effect, visit the big shop at the Jim Thompson House and Museum in Bangkok on Surawong Road. A huge display of JT Thai silk is in bulk is on display at the factory outlet store in Pattaya as well.
The Jim Thompson brand reaches way beyond neckties and sarongs. It offers personal goods like scarves, women’s and men’s ready-to-wear clothing, leather and silk accessories, handbags and finished home products like cushions, table cloths and place settings.
Home furnishing fabrics for draperies, bed linens and upholstery are offered under the Jim Thompson brand as well as sub-brands No 9, Fox Linton and Studio B. Their fabrics have been used by top designers and architects to adorn some of the most luxurious hotels, residences, resorts, yachts and private aircraft in the world.
The company is constantly expanding with innovative new outlets. A new fabric showroom opened in Bangkok earlier in 2017. A new flagship store is planned for Bangkok as well as London, Paris, New York, Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai.
Because the Jim Thompson brand is a reflection of the man himself, it seems only natural that it would become much more complex than just a fashion house or a tourist attraction. The brand in fact has morphed from silk shops into “retail destinations”. One would be hard pressed to find a tour company itinerary for Bangkok that did not include a visit to the Jim Thompson House, Museum and Art Gallery. It is still the most extensive collection of Thai and Southeast Asian art and artifacts in the world.
One aspect of Jim Thompson’s life and persona that is now being celebrated is his penchant for throwing a party and entertaining guests. According to legend, Jim Thompson was the consummate host.
He rubbed shoulders with everyone from communist guerillas to Asian gangsters to heads of state. Socialite historians all agree; Jim Thompson put Bangkok on the jet-set map and he threw one hell of a party. It only seems natural that the brand would embrace the concept of Jim Thompson restaurants and bars.
On Surawong Road in Bangkok, visitors can literally get a taste of Mr. Thompson’s style at The Jim Thompson Restaurant and Bar, Wine bar or Jim Thompson Café 9. Naturally the cuisine features the most delectable Thai dishes created from the freshest ingredients. And, as you might expect, an array of Thai-Western fusion dishes are on offer and display in all these eateries. Bombyx is the newest addition to the restaurant family; a swanky upscale joint in Bangkok’s Siam Paragon shopping mall. Guests can witness Jim Thompson’s style in a modern art gallery setting.
As you also might expect, the atmosphere in all these eating and drinking establishments is something out of a dream. Patrons are immersed in Jim Thompson’s exotic world with all their senses in play. Jim Thompson restaurants actually deserve the over-used tag of “dining experience”.
But it should be said that Jim Thompson wasn’t just about providing fancy clothes to upscale socialites. He wasn’t just about throwing lavish parties and rubbing shoulders with diplomats. First and foremost, Jim Thompson was a lover of Thailand and all things Thai. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the Jim Thompson farm in Northeastern Thailand.
He was (and still is) dedicated to recognizing and preserving the contributions of ethnically Laos and Isan people to the rich culture and history of Thailand. On the 600 rai Jim Thompson farm near Nakon Rachasima, mulberry and silkworms are cultivated to produce the world’s finest fabrics.
In 2007 Jim Thompson initiated “Isan House” a unique Thai-Isan architecture exhibit including Korat House, Baan Phu Tai and Baan Hom. The “Isan Village” was created to showcase and simulate the traditional way of life in Northeast Thailand. Visitors can see firsthand the buildings and lifestyle that influenced Jim Thompson and why he fell in love with Thailand.
Even though Jim Thompson’s life and mysterious disappearance are the part of his story most people know about, the legacy he left behind is the most impressive. Not only has his style and vision lasted for fifty years, the brand has grown both in scope and in reach. In Part I of this series I claimed that Jim Thompson was my hero because of his ability to reinvent himself, but, it’s also because he did everything with style.
He lived with style, he went out with style and his legacy lives on … with style.
by Bart Walters