In as superficial an industry as fashion, embracing one's imperfections is mostly easier said than done. But for Katie Ruensumran (a.k.a. Katie Monster), it's a philosophy she lives — and dresses by — right down to the nickname she's adopted. "Monster," says the London-based, Bangkok-raised writer and consultant, is an antidote to the hyper-curated personas she sees her peers project on Instagram.
"We are living in the social media world and people want to show the best side of themselves… they like to show others that their lives are perfect," she says. "It's really unreal for me. We are not perfect and I’m not perfect and I don’t want to be."
Ruensumran is the first to admit that she doesn't fit the cookie-cutter, sample-size mold that fashion tends to celebrate, but says that, frankly, she doesn't want to. "I’m not pretty or skinny… but I'm still really happy the way I am."
This attitude informs her sense of style, a playful mix of designer pieces and scene-stealing accessories. A typical Katie Monster outfit (if such a thing exists) may include a billowy dress by Simone Rocha or Vika Gazinskaya paired with a bejeweled handbag and a pair of shower slides; or an oversized, electric green Balenciaga button-down worn with khaki trousers, plaid platform sandals, and statement earrings the size of a credit card. Most prominent, though, is the hallmark look she's been sporting for close to a decade: dark eyebrows and a high bun bedecked with double hair bows, which she sources from brands as varied as American Apparel and the legendary milliner Stephen Jones.
Ruensumran's eclectic aesthetic was forged growing up in Thailand, where she says she collected magazines like The Face, i-D, and British Vogue, and dreamt of working in fashion. "Back then I couldn’t afford the designers clothes, but I just liked to flip [through] the magazines page by page, and sometimes smell the perfume from the advertisements. I still remember all those moments. That was the closest thing a kid could do to be close to fashion."
Later, she'd attend Central Saint Martins, but in her early teens she was also thwarted by the fact that most of the stores nearby didn't carry clothes that would fit her. "I didn’t have much options regarding to size," she recalls, "but I don’t really like the clothes in department stores anyway. I prefer to find some vintage pieces and customize it." She would go to the flea market and buy an oversized Mickey Mouse T-shirt and give it babydoll sleeves, or turn an old Union Jack flag into a cape. "It [was] kinda fun. You know, when you are young, nothing is wrong."
Today, she doesn't have as much free time to sit and tool around with thrifted finds, but she says she enjoys sharing ideas with the designers she works with, most of whom run emerging Thai brands like Landmee' and Dry Clean Only (whose customized tees have earned the Beyoncé stamp of approval). She flies back to Bangkok about once every two months to meet with the teams about design, marketing, and breaking into international markets, then visits showrooms in London and Paris during their respective fashion weeks. In between, she works mostly via video conference and writes a monthly column for Elle Thailand.
When we speak on WhatsApp, she's on one of her Bangkok trips, where a downpour is ushering in the start of the rainy season. Though she says she doesn't often wear prints, she's sporting a men's Prada shirt with mixed lipstick and geometric patterns. "People in fashion like to wear everything that's in-season, but men's clothes you can mix and match," she says. Later, she posts a photo of the look to Instagram, complete with a full skirt, high heels, and a pose imbued with just the right amount of camp.
Her father, Pa Tuek, also posts a shot on his feed, where his regular fashion updates and similarly singular style have amassed him 35,000 followers. Ruensumran says she's sure his influence has rubbed off on her over the years. "He likes dressing up; he likes clothes. When I was younger, he always said to me, 'Every time you go out, you have to dress to impress.' People judge your look before they talk to you."
When I ask what impression she hopes to make with her outfits, she answers instantly: "Happy!"
"I don't dress to kill, you know?" she explains. "I don't try to dress pretty. If I'm happy, I like to dress happy. That's it."