The story of Thai-American designer Thakoon Panichgul's rise to fame is well-known. He cut his teeth as a writer (then an editor) at Harper's Bazaar magazine in New York, before going down the fashion design route himself and enrolling in Parsons School of Design. The rest, as they say, is history.
A lesser-known part of the narrative, however, is that Panichgul always wanted to be a designer, even before he embarked on his journalism career. “I loved [fashion design]. But I didn't study it so I was almost...insecure about [pursuing] it in the beginning,” he explains. “[But] once I started to write and talk to designers a bit, I was like: ‘Oh, I can do this.' You don't really have to have proper training. If you love it, you can maybe just figure it out as you go along.”
In town to showcase his Autumn/Winter 2015 collection at the Singapore Fashion Week, Panichgul has come a long way from his days of self-doubt, doling out bits and pieces of information about his life and work amid a hectic fitting session ahead of his runway show. “I'm sorry, can I just do this one first?” he asks with an apologetic smile when a model struts in wearing one of his creations, before nipping and tucking at the outfit with deft hands. “I was really feeling something like an early 1990s mood, so I think it was kind of a bohemian sensibility that I was after,” he says of this new collection, slipping back into interview mode having sent the model out for a quick change. “You'll see a lot of layering, and long and lean silhouettes. There is also an artisanal feel in the way that the clothes are constructed, such as a crochet trim done in a graphic way, and patch-working.”
Watching Panichgul during a fitting and listening to him speak passionately about design, it is hard to picture him in any other line of work. He shares that the turning point in his career came during his time as a journalist, following an interview with the founders of now-defunct womenswear label Bruce, Nicole Noselli and Daphne Gutierrez. (In its heyday at the turn of millennia, the brand was the talk of fashion circles, even picking up the Perry Ellis Award for Womenswear for Emerging Talent in 2001.) Panichgul recalls with a smile how he ended up hanging out at Noselli and Gutierrez's studio “a lot longer than [he] needed to be”, and walked away with an internship with them in the end. “I started to sew with them on the weekends and that's how it all began, really,” says the 41-year-old.
Panichgul eventually launched his eponymous label in 2004, to much success, before expanding his repertoire with Thakoon Addition in 2010, a ready-to-wear and footwear line targeted at a younger audience. Today, his designs are worn by the likes of Hollywood A-listers Charlize Theron and Julianne Moore and US First Lady, Michelle Obama. “I am 11 years into the brand and I think today is the proudest [moment of my career],” muses Panichgul, who also holds the position of Creative Director for Tasaki, a fine jewellery house based in Japan. “Because it feels like now, it is [finally] an established brand and people know it. And I created it from really nothing.”
Three Things You Didn't Know About Thakoon Panichgul
He loves to people-watch
“In New York, I work in the West Village and I love to walk to work so that I can watch people. I go to bookstores, I watch people and what they are looking at; galleries, I really look at people there — and the art too, of course. I love to observe people in different cities and just see how they live; the way that people bring their style into wearing clothes. I think that's what interests me about fashion.”
To him, Singapore feels futuristic
“It's like a city with an exotic garden. I think it's really beautiful — it's like the future. I went to Gardens by the Bay too, and it's amazing, incredible. The flowers, the domes…it's just unreal.”
He admires Hillary Clinton
“I think she's cool. She's got strength.”