Jim Thompson's first business venture in Thailand was not connected with the silk industry. Rather, his first task was working on a project to restore the venerable Oriental Hotel. At the time, the Oriental was serving as billets for military personnel; today it is one of the top luxury hotels in Bangkok, attracting influential visitors from around the world. It was during this time however, that Thompson revealed his interest in Thai silk when he began sending fabrics home to friends whom he felt would appreciate the cloth's beautiful homespun texture and often surprising, vibrant colour combinations.
Thompson began considering the commercial possibilities of Thai silk, an idea he pursued with great determination. He made his first breakthrough when he discovered an enclave of Thai, Muslim weavers who lived in an idyllic small canal-side community called Bankrua, right in the heart of Bangkok.
With a fresh portfolio of beautiful Thai silks, Thompson traveled to New York in the hope of dazzling the city's elite trend-setters.
Edna Woolman Chase, Vogue Magazine's influential editor at the time, was instantly captivated by the vibrant colours of these unfamiliar fabrics. Her excitement was such that Thompson often relayed the story of how Chase summoned the entire Vogue workforce to come and admire the discovery. Being well connected, she also took practical steps to introduce Thompson’s collection to various prominent fashion designers.
Following on from an excellent reception in New York, Thompson’s Thai Silk business prospered and in 1950 he opened his first shop on the iconic lower Surawong Road, selling an eclectic array of beautiful silk textiles.
In 1951, the Thai Silk Company Limited was officially registered as a company. Thompson continued to work with the local weavers in Bankrua, who helped him produce some of the most exquisite fabrics the world had ever seen.
The Thai Silk Company gained real notoriety in 1951 when Thompson was asked to weave silks for the Broadway production of the King and I. The production and the film that followed were a huge success. Irene Sharaff’s costume designs, featuring Jim Thompson silk, led to floods of orders and solidified the company’s position in the global textile market.
Thai Silk had another grand moment in 1959 when their Majesties the King and Queen of Thailand made international headlines on their United States tour. Consequently, Queen Sirikit’s stunning outfits, designed by Pierre Balmain and featuring Jim Thompson fabrics, were coveted around the world.
Queen Sirikit was undoubtedly one of Thompson’s most celebrated and influential customers. Following the popular royal tour of the United States, her majesty remained a loyal customer and Jim Thompson produced a number of costly silks, brocaded in Gold, for her exclusive use.
By the 1960’s, Jim Thompson silk could be found in numerous high-end establishments across the globe. Designers for the film Ben Hur (the fastest and highest grossing film in 1959) used Jim Thompson silks for many of their leading costumes. His textiles were also notably used by a prominent English decorator in the restoration of the Canaletto Room of Windsor Castle. The Woolworth heiress and famous 1930’s socialite Barbara Hutton was an old friend of Thompson and had exclusive colours woven for her various properties around the world. Thompson’s Thai silk also found its way across the world to some of the most exclusive locations such as the London Savoy Hotel.
Just two weeks before his disappearance, Jim Thompson relocated his business to No.9 Surawong Road. To this day, the store remains as Jim Thompson’s flagship, offering an array of exquisite Thai silk. Housed in an elegant building that mimics the style of 17th century architecture from Ayutthaya, it is truly one of the lasting treasures of Bangkok.
In 1980, the Thai Silk Company relocated its silk production to Pak Thong Chai, a picturesque, peaceful village close to the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima. The new location enabled the company to produce silks on a more commercial scale and today the campus-like compound houses some 50 workshop buildings, situated amongst 93 acres of verdantly-gardened grounds.
In addition, there are two large farms where the true magic of the production takes place. Everything from silk cocoon selection, degumming and colouring silk yarns, to reeling and weaving production, is completed on site. It is here that Thompson first discovered some of his earliest weavers, producing high quality silk on simple looms in the wide open spaces, under their idyllic, raised, wood houses.
In 1988 the Jim Thompson Farm expanded to create a production facility for fertilised silkworm eggs. Continuing Thompson’s legacy of philanthropy, the Farm aimed to provide fertilised silkworm eggs to farmers nationwide. The Jim Thompson Farm then buys back from local farmers many of the cocooned silkworms, which are used for the production of Jim Thompson silks. This venture has helped support local farmers and the rural economy in Thailand, an ethical business model which Thompson himself admired and sought to promote.
The Thai Silk Company first explored the food and drinks market in 1996 when it opened its first cafe at the flagship store at 9 Surawong Road. The cafe, cladded in the same style as Thompson's teak house on the klong, mirrors the ambience of the house. The store is perfectly suited for an innovative space to socialise and sample some traditional Thai food whilst soaking up the ambiance of the 17th century style building.
Jim Thompson was an excellent host, and influential friends from around the globe flocked to his home to sample the very best Thai cuisine at his popular dinner parties. In commemoration, the Jim Thompson Restaurant and Wine Bar opened on the site of Thompson's home in 1999. From its inception, the serene setting allowed diners to experience the finest Thai food within the grounds of Thompson's utterly unique and acutely tranquil home.
In 1999, Jim Thompson opened a store in Singapore, and has since opened two new locations on Orchard Road and at the iconic Raffles Hotel.
In January 2007, Jim Thompson Europe was founded and has since been responsible for distributing Jim Thompson fabrics to all European clients. Our Munich Showroom occupies a bright space on Müllerstrasse in an up-and-coming art district.
Jim Thompson America has been responsible for stateside distribution since 2011 and now distributes to more than 20 showrooms across North America and Canada. Our flagship North American showroom opened in Atlanta in 2013.
On October 3rd 2013, Jim Thompson celebrated the opening of its Paris showroom in the chic St. Germain des Pres neighbourhood, bringing the exotic Eastern influences of Thompson’s silk to the glamorous streets of Paris. Jim Thompson is distributed solely by Pierre Frey, a French design company with a long history of making exquisite textiles in Europe.
Jim Thompson was conceived from one extraordinary man’s vision for a quaint, local weaving community and today is the world’s largest producer of hand woven fabrics. A trusted lifestyle brand, it boasts its own farm, restaurants and museum with a strong design presence across five continents. The legacy of this incredible man continues to live on through the creative flare and work of the Jim Thompson designers today, who with an increasing array of glorious textiles continue to inspire future generations.