Longyi is a gender-neutral term for the long piece of fabric that is worn in abundance in Myanmar.
It starts from the waist and reaches down to the feet, and though it is made out of various types of material, the most common is cotton. Silk is used for formal occasions, such as weddings and feasts.
Htamein is the term used for women’s longyi, while paso describes men’s. The patterns for htamein and paso also differ: while fabric used to make paso are usually dark checkerboard patterns, women’s htamein make use of a variety of designs, from stripes and flowers, to elegant, interwoven wave patterns, known as acheik. Often, the different patterns and designs reflect the different ethnicities who made it.
Acheik is a traditional pattern inspired by the Ayeyarwady River, and has been produced by weavers in Mandalay for centuries. One type of traditional fabric on which acheik patterns can be seen is Lun Yar Kyaw. Around three months is taken to weave two meters of this fabric, rendering it one of the most expensive Burmese silk. There are many more patterns available for longyi, but nearly everyone wears acheik in the event of festivities.
Burmese silk is made with the use of wooden looms that are operated by both hand and feet in a very lengthy process. First of all, threads that have been extracted from the cocoons of silkworm larva are spun to make silk thread. Next, three or four of these raw silk threads are twisted and tightened using a loom. After washing them thoroughly in boiled soap-nut liquid, the desired dye color is added to the boiled water and left for around 30 minutes. Any excessive dye is rinsed, after which the colored threads are washed repeatedly and left to dry in the sun. These threads are then wounded onto bobbins, which are attached on to looms and used to weave the desired acheik pattern. Up to 300 bobbins are used to weave intricate patterns of acheik. For Lun Yar Kyaw, over 100 shuttles of multi-colored silk thread are used, and depending on the design, more than 100 looms are needed.
Traditional acheik made out of Burmese silk is very pricey, each piece costing over more than 100,000 kyats, but Mogok Pauk Pauk, one designer seeking to make acheik affordable for all, has launched Fairy God Mother (FGM), a fashion line consisting of elegant, affordable acheik outfits, that also has an online store.
We caught up with her as she inspected the production process for her line in a village outside Mandalay. Liked for her humble and down-to-earth attitude, Mogok Pauk Pauk is arguably Myanmar’s most successful fashion designer ever. Her couture has leapt from the catwalk to wedding aisles across the country, though you are also likely to see her designs just walking down the streets of Yangon.