Earlier this month we had the pleasure of welcoming the delightful Niki Groom (AKA Miss Magpie Fashion Spy), a fashion designer for Nomads Fair Trade Clothing in the UK, to Luang Prabang. Niki joined us for a Natural Dyes class at the Living Crafts Centre, did a few sketches of our weavers (including the gorgeous drawing of Bouchan below) and took time for a chat about the highlights of her travels in Laos. We love the mood boards she created from photos around town – what an inspiration!

Here are Niki’s top five tips for designers and fashion-minded folk visiting Luang Prabang.

1. Have a camera free day…

On my first day in Luang Prabang I left my camera and phone in the guesthouse. We’re all so obsessed with capturing an image that we often miss out on taking in other factors such as atmosphere, sounds and smells. On occasions I took out my sketchbook and spent a couple of hours drawing my favourite places, but mostly I just soaked it all in. It was such an inspiring day.

Photo and sketch by Niki Groom

(Jump to the end of this post to see more of Niki’s incredible sketches).

2. Do the Natural Dyes class at Ock Pop Tok…

For someone who works in the world of commercial fashion design, I’ve become far removed from the process of natural dyeing. I generally pick a colour and someone somewhere comes up with the formula to make it happen in production. So, this course at Ock Pop Tok was fascinating!

Who’d have thought that boiling up sappa wood would make a vibrant red dye, and adding ash water would make it pink!? My top tip? Don’t pick the colour you like, instead choose the most interesting process. I was very jealous of people picking seeds and crushing them – it looked like lots of fun!

Natural Dyes at OPT photo by Niki Groom

3. Seek out traditional clothing…

Visit the Traditional Arts & Ethnology Centre for a small but beautifully curated exhibition of traditional costume. I loved the mixture of batik, patchwork, appliqué and hand stitching. Do also visit the night market for some lovely vintage pieces.

TAEC photo by Niki Groom

4. Cross the bamboo bridge…

This bridge is made every season and then washed away when the rains come. Take time when crossing it to think of the work involved, and head to Dyen Sabai (a café just over the other side) to sit and take in the sunset with a view of tall bamboo. I’d recommend a Beer Lao as the tipple of choice!

Bamboo bridge photo by Niki Groom

5. Do a cafe crawl…

The cafés in Luang Prabang are something else. The French influence is clear in the selection of cakes and pastries (and I thought I was coming to Asia to be healthy!). Spend a day hopping from one to the other, visiting the temples along the way. Le Banetton Café has a beautiful wash bowl in the bathroom, Big Tree Café has great photographs by Adri Berger, and Café du Laos has a vibrant tiled floor and patchwork wooden swing.

Banneton Cafe photo by Niki Groom

6. Colour, colour, colour…

Collect as much colour as possible. My sketchbook is filled with photos, fabric, pressed flowers and bits of paper. It’s something I’ll always treasure when I’m back in the grey winter of London.

Colour inspiration by Niki Groom

Niki would also like to share some of the gorgeous illustrations she sketched in Luang Prabang. You can visit her online store to view and purchase more of her work.

sketch by Niki Groom

sketch by Niki Groom

sketch by Niki Groom

sketch by Niki Groom

sketch by Niki Groom

Posted by Ock Pop Tok

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