Being the daughter of a diplomat she had the privilege to study in England, France, and Switzerland. It was only a few years after the Second World War. Few of her fellow countrymen had the same opportunity. It was in France that she met Bhumibol, the future king of Thailand. When they married in Switzerland, she was only 17.
In the 60’s she and her king were to embark on a series of important state visits to the United States and Europe. Seemingly driven by an intense interests in fashion, and the desire to represent herself and her country with class and dignity, she hired the leading post-war French fashion designer Pierre Balmain to create a wardrobe for her. She ordered Balmain to use Thai silk, and as much as possible to inject the essence of Thai traditional clothing into the design.
Balmain traveled to Thailand to take her measurement and to discuss design details. He returned to Paris to do the tailoring, after which he brought the entire collection back to Thailand for fitting and adjustments. The final result was stunning. It included a collection of clothing for both formal and casual occasions, plus matching shoes, hats, accessories, and a dozen top-of-the-line Louis Vitton garment trunks for transport. Balmain even taught Queen Sirikit’s servants how to pack and handle the clothing appropriately. This undertaking must have cost a fortune, especially considering the living standard of her country at the time.
Her collection and the success of her visit to the West are in full display in the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles. Unlike most tourist attractions, the museum was designed with taste, attention to details, and a sense of pride. Besides the Queen’s clothing collection and her triumphant visit to the West, the museum also documents her efforts to revive the Thai silk industry, as well as Khon (traditional Thai theater) and its costumes.
King Bhumibol passed away last October. The Thai people are still in mourning. They display his portraits everywhere. Queen Sirikit had a stroke in 2012 and has since refrained from public appearances. It is naive to trust that there are purely benevolent kings and queens, but for sure the sincere and almost-universal respect of the Thai people for their monarch is impressive in this days and age.