10 things we learned In Conversation with Thakoon Panichgul and Steven Kolb

Thai-American designer Thakoon Panichgul (left) sat down with Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) chief executive Steven Kolb to share his thoughts on his brand and the fashion industry. -- PHOTOS: THAKOON/STEVEN KOLB
Thai-American designer Thakoon Panichgul (left) sat down with Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) chief executive Steven Kolb to share his thoughts on his brand and the fashion industry. -- PHOTOS: THAKOON/STEVEN KOLB

Thai-American designer Thakoon Panichgul sat down with Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) chief executive Steven Kolb this morning at Lasalle College of the Arts to share his thoughts on his brand and the fashion industry.

Here are 10 interesting things we learned.

1. Thakoon was a runner-up for the 2006 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. Among the things he won? A car, and mentorship from Mark Lee, the then CEO of Gucci (now with Barneys). He describes the process - stepping into a room with 10 judges, including CFDA president Diane von Furstenberg, Vogue editor Anna Wintour and Kolb, as "really the most terrifying moment for any designer."

2. The designer moved from Bangkok to Omaha, Nebraska at the age of 11 when his mother re-married. It was a shock coming from a big city to a place where "there's nothing but cornfields and cows."

3. He has a brother, 13 months older than him. Thakoon says he was always coordinating their outfits when they were little - the start of his styling ways.

4. The designer got a scholarship and attended Boston University and studied business, even though he didn't want to. He jokes that business school is "every Asian parent's decision for their kid". He secretly applied to a photography school in Boston as well, and contemplated for a minute whether he should secretly go there instead (he didn't).

5. Vogue editor Sally Singer was one of his early supporters. He met her and got her opinion on a few pieces he created when he was contemplating launching his label, even though he was working as a writer at Harper's Bazaar at the time. His first few stockists were Chicago boutique Ikram, New York shop Kirna Zabete and e-tailer Net-A-Porter.

6. One of the pitfalls new designers should be careful of, he says, is of being thrust into the limelight and not knowing what to do. He has had business partner Maria Borromeo since the start to help handle the business end of things.

7. Thakoon is not a big sketcher. He describes his sketches as "chicken scratch". Rather, he selects fabrics and is more garment and construction-focused during his fashion process. For instance, he'll take a sleeve, and try matching it with different tops.

8. The designer contemporary price point (around US$400) is the new luxury, he says. The amount is a lot for many people, and the introduction of fast fashion brands like Zara and H&M mean prices are getting so competitive. Ready-to-wear clothing is almost like the new couture, he says.

9. American first lady Michelle Obama is another big supporter of his brand. She wore a Thakoon dress at the Democratic National Convention in 2008. Thakoon said seeing that on TV "freaked me out so much", in a good way.

10. His advice to young designers is to ask themselves: "Do I want to be a designer or do I want to be famous?" In this selfie age, everyone seems to be after fame. "It's so boring!" he says. "Don't you want to have a talent, too?"

llim@sph.com.sg