If art imitates life, then fashion imitates art. Or so Thakoon Panichgul would have it. The Thai-American designer—whose collections have called to mind the abstract patterns of painters Cy Twombly and Henri Matisse—has a penchant for creating whimsical, yet wearable, clothing. It’s no wonder the onetime Harper’s Bazaar writer has been a red carpet and FLOTUS favorite for the past decade; not to mention, was tapped by Target and the Gap to design capsule collections for the rest of us. Inspired by the 1959 film Black Orpheus, Panichgul’s new collection is an escape into the exotic—one clothed in dresses dripping with beads and tunics printed with palm fronds. Four&Sons caught up with the designer on the eve of his spring show—which marks the label’s 10-year anniversary—to talk about his bohemian sensibility and his Chorkie Stevie’s split personality.
What sparked your interest in fashion?
Thakoon Panichgul: When I lived in Omaha, I was forever reading magazines. I think it was my way of escaping; there was nothing to do there, so I would escape into beautiful Steven Meisel and Bruce Weber photographs. It was more about the images than the designers at the time. I always wanted to design, but I tap-danced around it. I went to business school and became everything but a designer. I worked in production, merchandising, even fashion writing. While interviewing certain designers, I realized that I could do what they did. They were talented but didn’t have the business sense I had. So I decided to try my hand at it. I’ve always been more artistic than not. My heart is in the arts.
The new collection is darkly tropical. What inspired it?
Exoticism—as seen through the eyes of a tourist. There is always a bit of undone-ness in the Thakoon girl’s look, innate in her approach to dressing. This collection is evocative of a languid, nuanced, bohemian-tropical vibe. Everything has to have an easy appeal, but this sense of ease is balanced by beautiful textiles and sensual silhouettes.
What sort of energy does Stevie bring to the studio?
Stevie adds a nice energy to a hectic environment. She is happy at the studio, but I’m not sure if I always am because she becomes the center of attention. When I’m there, she wants to protect me and barks at everyone who comes in. But the moment I leave for an appointment, she is sweet and sits on everyone’s laps. It’s like she has a dual personality…