What they’re wearing in Bhutan right now: fashion show in Thimphu

My first
night in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, was spent at a glamorous fashion
parade. My second night was spent sitting on a farmhouse kitchen floor, eating
rice with my fingers with a family of potato farmers.
Curve ball
tourism?
Absolutely the place to be in Thimphu this week was
the fashion parade that marked the opening of the new National Textile Museum
building. 
Everyone was there. Even one of 
Bhutan’s five queens – who is the
museum’s patron – was there, with plenty of princes and princesses into tow, mobbed by Bhutan’s paparazzi and observed eagerly and reverentially by
the rest of the population.
The dress that brought the house
down and the crowd to its feet.
The fashion
show was a collaboration of designers from Bhutan’s fledgling fashion industry
and two Indian designers, the Bollywood designer Rita Kumar and the fabulously
suave Rajesh Pratap Singh. 
Models were a mix of locals and Mumbai imports: the
super-Indians had the strut and polish, while a few Bhutanese girls radiated
shyness. The boys were all doing their best
‘OMG-my-girlfriend-talked-me-into-this’ look and, in a country that created
Gross National Happiness, they all had perfected the p*** off stare.
The show
ran through  the latest kiras (women’s
traditional dress) and ghos (men’s wrap), which must be worn at work and for
official functions. 
Having said that, I have seen farmers happily striding the
paddocks in the gho, usually tartan, which looks like a shave coat worn with a
pair of long socks. It is more attractive than it sounds, while the kiras, shimmering
with gold threat, were beautiful.
Then INXS
kicked up and the designers let their heads go. True to form, the paparazzi’s
cameras went into overdrive whenever a mini-skirt came on the catwalk (rare)
but the biggest applause was for a fairytale gown that swept the floor. 
A traditional kira.
It really
showed another face of Bhutan: there wasn’t a hiking boot in sight, and it was
touching to see the Bhutanese absolutely bursting with pride for their
beautiful new building and the fashions by their own.
They were
also extremely lucky, as the monsoon season seems to have come early this year
– it generally doesn’t kick off till late June, early July – there was not one
drop of rain on the elaborate outdoor production. I assume it was the work of
the lamas, who dictated when the building should be opened.
“But then,
the lamas were consulted as to when the elections should take place, and they
were rained out,” commented one (foreign) cynic.  
For a
country that got TV in 1999, they’ve come a long way, baby.

About the author

Fear is found on a creaking glacier in the Caucasus mountains and joy is encapsulated in the perfect Shanghai dumpling. And while I love a $500-a-night hotel room (who doesn’t?), sometimes the best stories are found in a $20 guesthouse. With an eye always out for good markets and great street eats, I write the travel news and features for the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s The Age newspapers, and features for whoever else asks. I have a particular soft spot for the wilds of the Middle East, scarves and carpets. My articles and photographs have been published in a range of consumer magazines and newspapers in Australia and abroad.

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