Threading Cultures

When tattooing on the human body, artists don’t have a flat rectangle to create a composition on. They work over rounded edges and sloping curves, within crevices and folds. The larger the tattoo the more the artwork has to bend and twist. Creating patterns and prints for clothing can be a similar process. There’s stitching, edges, and shapes to work around. Bangkok clothing brand Loco Mosquito teases out these similarities, creating all-over prints designed by tattoo artists for limited drops. The artists work in their individual styles, creating designs specifically for each clothing drop, resulting in unique pieces that could be hung on a wall as easily as they’d be worn. “We want people to have something not a lot of people have,” says founder Ricky Madison. “It’s art-driven as opposed to fashion-driven.”

The Mosquito showroom feels like a gallery. Tucked away in a residential alley, artwork from all around Asia covers every inch of wall space. There are lama thanka paintings, Tibetan prayer rugs, old Indian cassette tapes, and tribal Indonesian shell weaving. Original artwork by his friends and collaborators is mixed throughout the space and the second floorโ€”where their clothing is on displayโ€”is covered with a bright pink mural. There are multiple tattoo booths as well.

Ricky Madison by Mike Steyels

Madison, who runs Mosquito alongside his wife Jitt, worked for years in the fashion industry but found it wanting. He needed something with more substance. Born and raised in Jakarta, the Indonesian-Chinese artist was more captivated by the West than he was by Asian art as a kid. “I guess kids always think the grass is greener, I always wanted to be exposed to new things,” he says. While studying at university in Australia, he started working retail at clothing shops and eventually went on to work at a global fast fashion brand doing trend forecasting and production. “I got disillusioned. It was a cool environment, cool people. But the fashion world felt very superficial.” By his late twenties he started to gravitate towards Eastern culture, traveling to places like Nepal and India. He was exploring Japanese and Chinese culture, tribal Indonesian art from Borneo and Sumbawa, and Hindu culture. “I found this stuff mundane as a kid, but later on I revisited it and was captivated by the visual language. The older you get, you start seeing things in a different light.”

After nearly a decade in Australia, he left for Bangkok to get a tattoo from a friend. “I fell in love with the city. It fosters Western creativity but also maintains its traditional Southeast Asian idiosyncrasies with religion, culture, art, and folk art,” he says. So he moved here to start a new chapter in his life, with only the vague notion he wanted to do something with clothes. At the time he was working in vintage exports. Soon he got a full body tattoo that features an Indian Mahakala deity, Borneo tribal symbology, and Tibetan references by a visiting French artist named Guy Le. And then it hit him: “Let’s combine tattoos with clothing.”

Guy Le became Madison’s first collaborator, and together they created a burgundy, all-over Japanese wave print for a white denim Mandarin collar jacket and matching pants. They printed a small run of ten pieces and brought it with them to the year’s biggest tattoo convention and displayed it at Guy Le’s booth. “We were just having fun with it at the time,” Madison says. “We didn’t expect anyone to be interested.” But they ended up selling more than half of what they made. And more importantly, they gained the interest of some of the world’s top tattoo artists.

Although the artists Loco Mosquito collaborates with are from all over the world, each with their own individual style, the brand has a distinct identity. “They share a similar outlook on what tattooing should be, so it creates a cohesive look all together, even though they are quite different,” Madison explains. “It needs to be an extension of their personality and their artwork. It’s important.”

They’ve collaborated with 15 artists total but have done multiple drops with many and aim to work with their day one artists once or twice a year. They never make more than 100 pieces per release. Most of their fabrics, like Rayon and cotton, are imported from Japan. But everything is pieced together in Bangkok by traditional shirt makers and tailors. For the all-over prints, they use digital reactive printing on a big roll of fabric and then cut out the shapes. “We try not to do many edits to the prints because we want to retain the hand-drawn element. You see brush strokes and slight imperfections that you would see in a real painting.”

For each drop they release two lookbooks, one documenting the process behind the creation of the artwork and the artist behind them. The other uses street-style photography and man-off-the-street models. A great example is the recent drop featuring a local motorcycle taxi driver covered in sak yant tattoos. “He was a great fit. We see him from time to time and have known him for a couple years. We approached him because of the tattoos but he’s got a natural charisma, his demeanor, the way he dresses and speaks. We wanted something true.”

This adds another layer of substance to the work Mosquito produces. Substance was Madison’s main interest from the start and what the brand stands for: “The lack of meaning and stories is the main reason I left the fashion industry. They’re too important. People attach a sentimentality the origins of something and how they’re made. It’s what makes clothes personal.” The models, the tattoo artists, the art itself, even the production. It imbues everything with purpose. It’s a statement.