Whenever the conversation revolves around the country’s top headpiece designers, the name Eric Tobua is often on everyone’s lips. His distinct and diverse style has made him a trusted force in the local and international fashion scene. Today, he’s venturing into the world of mixed media, creating art from a wide array of materials and we’re here to have a chat with him about that and then some.
The Beginning of Eric Tobua
I was born in Khonkaen. I’ve always loved art and performing art since I was little, which is why I decided to study Western Dance and major in ballet at Mahasarakham University. After graduation, I went to London to learn more English and take several art courses. My love for art later led me to apply to Central Saint Martins College, where I majored in Art & Design.
From Art Student to Real-life Stylist
While in London, I was lucky enough to have met Art Araya, who advised me to go work in fashion in Bangkok. I did exactly that after graduating in 2013, starting out working as a stylist for Thai fashion brands and gaining more experience as I went.
His First Headpiece
The first headpiece that I designed was for the brand EXIBIT’s runway show. For that piece, I used recycled materials such as plastic straws, feathers, and leather to construct it. People loved it and I started to get requests to make more.
The Style of Eric Tobua Studio
I’m not really sure what my style is actually (laughs). I suppose it’s a bit of everything. It’s got that strong mix-and-match vibe to it, but nothing ever feels random. My work can be quirky, it can also be chic. It’s unpredictable.
From Headpieces to Sculptures
The first sculpture I designed is a seahorse for Cape Kudu on Yao Noi Island. I initially went there to teach art to local kids. One day we went collecting litter on the beach, so I thought I’d transform it into this seahorse.
Around mid 2020, I had a chance to collaborate with Note P (Note Panayanggool) on the project called ‘High On Your Own Supply’ on Koh Tao. We asked people to help us collect beach litter, which I later turned into a turtle sculpture. It was done alongside a live performance by Note P. Creating something in real time was exciting and stressful at the same time. It took me about 3-4 hours to complete it. I got such great feedback on it that I want to continue the project.
My dream project is to turn trash into an underwater sculpture that can also be used as a coral bed. Sort of a green project that people can go check out when they go diving.
The Challenge of Mixed Media
I think the challenges are mainly time and materials. I was once briefed to arrange artificial flowers with the real ones. Sounds easy on paper, but it’s actually very hard. I have to think about all the approaches and see which technique can be applied to each project. For materials, the most challenging for me is those used in basketwork, especially rattan. I had to go to a workshop to learn how to work with it, which is good because I can always apply this new skill to future work.
This past year I got to work with several Asian and European brands. I got to design a flower set for a Gucci fashion shoot. I also designed some headpieces for different labels for London Fashion Week and worked with Spanish artist Miquel Barcelo on a project where designers turned natural materials found in Spain into art pieces.
My favorite is the headpiece I did for ISSUE. It’s a lion headpiece that can move through the mechanism that’s been built into it. A model can actually wear this moving headpiece and strut down a runway.
I want to design a piece for Isabella Blow, one of my all-time icons and inspirations. Although she passed away, she loved wearing unique headpieces when she was alive. Another one would be Alexander McQueen. I want to design a headpiece for him and place it at his tombstone.
I really want to work with Vivien Westwood again. She’s just like me — crazy, wild, and fun! Another brand I want to work with is Maison Margiela. I really like their style.
I’d like to do something I haven’t done before. Things like pottery, which I can incorporate into masks or headpieces. For me, styles can always cross over. They can always be mixed and matched. I love coming up with new ideas and finding inspiration from my surroundings. I like taking snapshots of things I see in my daily life and let them inspire me.
With his one-of-a-kind design approach, Eric Tobua can always be trusted to bring excitement to the fashion world. Keep an eye out for his brand of wearable art and prepare to be blown away