An Established Designer With the Eye of an Upstart

Man Behind the Thakoon Label Juxtaposes Sleek, Tailored Look With Daring Details; But Don’t Expect to See Any Camel

Among the fashion deities and style editors seated at the Thakoon show this week was a besuited gentleman dressed more for the United Nations than New York Fashion Week: Piriya Khempon, the consul-general of Thailand.

Thakoon1Bryan Derballa for The Wall Street Journal. The designer browses a rack of garments in his SoHo studio.

"He is like an icon" in Thailand, said Mr. Khempon of designer Thakoon Panichgul. The diplomat appeared in the sea of fashionistas because, he said, Mr. Panichgul could be a diplomatic and economic boost to the country where he was born.

That might sound like a tall order for a 35-year-old designer who is most widely known for the red-and-black dress worn by Michelle Obama at the Democratic National Convention in 2008. But Mr. Panichgul is proving to be a rare sort of designer—one with enough business savvy to have hired a sales staff even before pattern-makers and seamstresses when he started his label six years ago.

For a season or two after his burst of Obama-related fame, Mr. Panichgul seemed to use Mrs. Obama as his muse, and his collections appeared aimed at one high-profile customer who wears a lot of nice dresses.

Thakoon Panichgul, the 35-year-old designer known for the red-and-black dress worn by Michelle Obama, is proving to be a talented artist with an extra measure of business savvy.

This week in New York, though, the designer went in an entirely different direction. Opening looks in the collection were white, and tailored—including a stunning double-breasted suit. White was Mr. Panichgul’s response to the camel colors being so heavily promoted for fall. "I’ve been sick of camel for the past year," he said in his studio a few weeks before this show. His dog Stevie, a tiny Yorkie-Chihuahua mix, was yapping around his ankles.

The collection moved on to sexier looks and juxtaposed girlish white cotton eyelet with vampy hook-and-eye enclosures that in some cases ran the length of the garment. That’s the sort of thing that has earned the Thakoon label critical praise—its familiar and flattering silhouettes sparked up by unexpected or daring finishing details.

"I’m not an artist, I’m a designer," said Mr. Panichgul. "Designers are supposed to look at culture and solve problems."

These days, Mr. Panichgul is competing for adoration with newer, younger designers such as Prabal Gurung and Joseph Altuzarra. At a time when retailers are chasing the newest thing every season, he is neither the latest flavor nor the famous-as-Kleenex likes of Ralph Lauren or Michael Kors.

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