By David Ngo
Oct 6, 2022
BANGKOK IS A CITY non-descript sois that have a knack of withholding secrets to even the most familiar of visitors. When sidestepping busy streets. you never really know what you might discover around the corner. One such rare discovery is MCL Design, a jewelry brand beloved of A-listers the likes of Taylor Swift, Blake Lively, Nicole Scherzinger, Halle Berry, Jennifer Lopez, Janet Jackson, and Beyonce. While MCL Design’s collections can be found at Neiman Marcus, the company’s Thai roots aren’t known to many. Its founder and designer Matthew Campbell Laurenza launched MCL Design over 20 years ago after decamping from his native Kentucky to the Silom neighborhood of Bangkok.
“Back then, the area had a bustling jewelry crafting industry,” Laurenza says. He arrived in Thailand in 1998 with the intention of learning how to expertly cut stones from artisans in Chantaburi. But as Laurenza soon discovered, all precious stones, once processed, make their way to Silom. So he followed suit. “In those days, there were hundreds of craftspeople who worked in the Silom area,” Laurenza recalls. “But the number is decreasing, due to the jewelry industry moving to automated production, followed by Covid.”
He continues to work with his team of local artisans, some of whom he selected when he started out, eschewing new technologies and machinery. Laurenza does this, he says, to impart an element of humanity into his MCL Design statement pieces, which have appeared in music videos, movies and fashion-forward, cult television classics like Gossip Girl. He also does this to preserve the livelihoods of tradespeople in Silom.
“Sustaining craft is important for the citizens of Bangkok as it employs thousands of people, whose jobs should be protected from computer-aided design, mass production and 3D printing,” Laurenza tells me. Sustainability informs all of his work. This includes recycling, reusing and repurposing, wherever possible, and ensuring ethical sourcing and production, keeping in mind a ‘cherishable, not perishable’ ethos.
Likewise, Laurenza says, his adopted home hood of Silom has undergone many incarnations in recent years: “Parts of the area now resemble a huge construction site with new highrises and malls popping up. In a couple of years, Silom will look different, which is why it continues to be one of Southeast Asia’s liveliest neighborhoods.”
Here, we share some favorite Matthew Laurenza hangout spots in Silom and Bangkok beyond.
Eat Me, one of Silom’s dining stalwarts continues its two-decade-strong diversity vibes. “Part restaurant, part art gallery, and part mixological heaven, it serves a signature blend of fusion and classic western cuisine, which is a staple for me,” says Laurenza.
Issaya Siamese Club on Soi Sri Aksorn, although temporarily closed until mid-November 2022, is another Laurenza go-to. Housed in a rustic-meets-elegant 1920s colonial mansion, this restaurant by celebrity chef Ian Kittichai was one of the first of many cool places that recalibrated Bangkok’s dining scene.
Vesper is a cocktail joint taking up half a shoplot on Soi Convent. “It’s always busy, always full with people you know,” Laurenza says. “Whether for pre- or post-dinner yummy negronis, I come here.”
Buddha & Pals with its live jazz, Laurenza says, is a fantastic hangout to chill at when “you’re not in the mood for dance music.”
Intersecting with the bottom of Silom Road, Charoenkrung, in Bangkok’s creative district, is brimming with restaurants and bars. Jua is a contemporary take on an izakaya restaurant ― perfect for times when Laurenza craves yakitori and craft cocktails. Two doors away, for after dinner, Tropic City is an award-winning yet laid-back cocktail bar, where you’ll find many of the city’s creative types on unwind mode. “This pairing is a must, after a long working week, and ideal for visitors to feel the city’s authentic and often buzzy vibe beyond rooftop hotel bars,” the designer says.
South on Charoenkrung you’ll find Art Space by MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) at the Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok at Chao Phraya. “Khun Kit, the curator, has a great eye for homegrown talent,” Laurenza says. There’s also the shop, gallery and event space, ATT19, a vibrant artistic hub where the owner, Khun Mook, takes his role as the fabulous ambassador for Bangkok’s creative district pretty seriously.
Laurenza recommends Heliconia Bangkok for its art installation-worthy flower display as his own bejeweled creations, too, take inspiration from the original designer, Mother Nature herself.
Laurenza’s own Blingmine Showroom on Decho Road, a counterpoint to the usual luxury shopping malls the Thai capital has in abundance, might be a worthwhile destination for those in the mood to buy both serious rocks or impulse costume jewelry pieces. The space houses the stable of Laurenza’s jewelry brands, custom bag designer Pawii, along with a curated selection of objets d’art, antiques and pre-historic period finds.
Matthew Laurenza shares tips on buying bling in Bangkok
1. “You should always buy jewelry based on how it makes you feel.
2. If a stone is valuable, be sure to ask for some legitimate form of receipt, with the supplier’s company contact.
3. “If incredibly expensive, you may even request a laboratory report, but keep in mind that all stones, like diamonds, are valued based on color, size, cutting and clarity.”
4. With your purchases, ensure you have the right certification from organizations such as GIA (Gemological Institute of America), HKD Diamonds Laboratories Canada, or AIGS (Asian Institute of Gemological Sciences).