To feel confident and at ease regardless of one’s choice of attire and one’s body type is the desire of most women. But this sense of sartorial self-assurance can be hard to achieve when choosing undergarments in the right size can be an issue. And that’s where local lingerie brand Body Secret comes into its own. Established approximately 15 years ago, the business is the brainchild of our cover lady Maliwan Prayongphan, also known as Kul.
Although originally a southerner from Hat Yai in Songkhla province, Kul relocated to Bangkok as a student when she enrolled at Ramkhamhaeng University. There she earned a bachelor’s degree in business management. Five years as a flight attendant for Saudia, the national carrier for Saudi Arabia, followed before she returned to higher education with a master’s degree in business at Bangkok Thonburi University.
It was during her days with the airline that Kul noticed the strong interest in tailor-made undergarments among Thais, lingerie that at the time was only really available in Japan. “I used to fly there frequently to buy these garments for myself, for my boss and friends,” she says. “Eventually, I thought to myself, why not create my own lingerie and sell it here.” In light of the potential for her own business she began researching the industry and learning from what the Japanese were doing. She wasn’t afraid to experiment either and what began as a series of trials gradually evolved into the operation she has today, a thriving business with a loyal and ever-increasing high-end clientele. “Frankly, I am very proud of how far we have come, basically through word of mouth,” she says.
Following the launch of Body Secret’s first outlet in Pinklao, and greater demand from satisfied clients, a second branch at Central Chidlom was established. Today the company has 10 boutiques across the country, but the items they sell—given the obvious high expense of handmade garments—aren’t for everyone. “It is expensive,” Kul acknowledges, “but in order to make it more accessible, we offer the option of payment by instalments.”
Distinguishing itself from regular brands, Body Secret offers high-quality, tailor-made pieces of underwear meticulously manufactured by hand to meet the individual needs and comforts of customers. “At Body Secret we tailor each piece, which means our products cannot be found on the racks in retail outlets or listed in online stores like other brands,” Kul explains. “Conducting detailed measurements of each of our clients lies at the heart of our framework. We provide a very personalised service for the most personal of garments.” But in addition to offering made-to-measure, according to Kul, Body Secret boasts other benefits. “Our lingerie makes a woman feel confident. Pieces are designed individually for all shapes, sizes and requirements—to enhance décolletage and cleavage, or to control and hide excess fat and procure a slimmer appearance, all the while supporting the abdomen and tightening the calves. Women love the silhouettes our undergarments give them.”
Now aged 56, Kul is not yet ready to let go of the Body Secret reigns and remains as busy as ever with regular client appointments. However, she is also a mother of three sons—27-year-old Wacharayos and 24-year-old twins Wacharapol and Wacharapong—and wife to police general Dr Wittaya Prayongphan, whom she married over 30 years ago. “I have to admit I haven’t always been great at balancing time between family and work, particularly when the children were young and Body Secret was beginning to grow substantially,” she says. “However, I am very lucky to have such a supportive husband who helped to take care of the kids whenever I had my plate full. These days though we make sure to spend family time together every Sunday. We usually meet up at one of Bangkok’s upmarket malls, which may sound dull but it suits us because there is the shopping, which is great for me, and movie theatres for my sons and lots of great restaurants to try together—something my husband likes to do.”
Indeed, Kul is a keen shopper with a fondness for haute couture and her vast collection of countless glamorous fashion items shows it. She has a serious collection of dresses, watches, jewellery, bags, shoes…you name it. “I guess you can call it a hobby,” she laughs. “If I’m honest, I don’t have much time to exercise or go to the gym so an hour or two of shopping enables me to take a long walk. It also keeps me updated on what’s new and what’s in trend and helps me draw inspiration for Body Secret, where we like to stay current, creative and innovative.”
A jet-setter at heart, Kul also enjoys travelling and takes regular trips to Europe with her husband. “This year alone we have visited Germany five times,” she says. A beauty treatment enthusiast, when she is overseas her trips usually include visits to a beauty clinic where both she and her husband have been receiving stem cell therapy in an effort to remain young and rejuvenated.
Looking ahead, it is unlikely her sons, who each have their own ambitions and nascent careers, will be carrying on the Body Secret legacy. As for herself, Kul plans to retire within the next five to six years. “The idea now is to train people in my team or interested friends so they can take on the business and for the company to be able to continue without me,” she says. So far, Body Secret is in a league of its own. Being the sole provider of such services and products here also means no competitors. “The fact that the brand has grown to where it is today is already a big accomplishment for me,” she says.
For all her business drive Kul also has a spiritual side and in retirement she says she will dedicate much of her time to meditation and live life according to the teachings of Buddha. “In this way enlightenment and true happiness can be found, particularly pertaining to notions of life and death,” she explains. “We will all pass away one day. It is part of a natural cycle and Buddha’s teachings encourage us to find a virtuous and peaceful state of mind in the moments before death. That is something I want to focus on in the future. I also hope to pass on this knowledge to my children.”
A believer in giving back to society, she recently participated in the establishment of a care centre for the mentally ill in Putthamonthon and says, “I think it is important to help the less fortunate and give back where possible. If, in the future, I am in a position to help ease the suffering of the sickly and dying, I think it is incumbent on me to do just that.”
Photographer: Chaiwat Kungsamrith
Styling: Titivalai Srilamethong
Hair: Thunyaporn Kumphen
Make-Up: Suriyun Pothong
Location: Oriental Residence
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