Cultured Magazine

April/May 2016

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116 MORE THAN A MUSE A lost auction lot sparked a celebrated fashion collection, which, seasons later, remains fresh. Thakoon Panichgul reveals the story behind his collaboration with artist Laurie Simmons. BY MIEKE TEN HAVE PORTRAIT BY DOUGLAS FRIEDMAN "I always like to take something beautiful, and make it less precious, twist it a little and upend the idea of 'pretty,' " says fashion designer Thakoon Panichgul. "There is depth and an evocation of ideas at play." His fascination with subverting convention made for a fitting collaboration with artist Laurie Simmons, whose work inspired six fabrics for his Spring 2009 collection. The collaboration started when Panichgul, known for harmonizing architectural lines with feminine flourish, bid on a book of "nerd erotica" by Simmons in an auction (which he lost). He felt devastated, but that wouldn't last long: In typical New York City kismet, the pair of creatives ended up meeting at a dinner party hosted by a mutual friend—the art dealer (and prolific collector) Angela Westwater. "That lasting image of kink in some of her works was a key component," Panichgul says of Simmons. The fabrics were a composite of photographs Simmons took of slender women's legs in various uncrossed positions topped by large, ebullient red roses. He deemed it a highly successful marriage and remains open to such artistic synergy. "There is always the prospect of collaboration in fashion, which is exciting," he says. "This keeps the arena energized." Photography had a formative impact on the designer, who was born in Thailand and raised in Nebraska. "Growing up, I would wait all month long for the new fashion magazines. Vogue, Elle, they were all working with photographers that defined a complete look and mood. Those were the days when I first connected to the idea of American classics, translated through the eye and lens of these photographer/artists." Panichgul now not only embodies the American self-made template, but also has a visible hand in shaping the modern vernacular for the way women dress. One needn't look further than to First Lady Michelle Obama, known for her embrace of innovative American designers, and particularly her penchant for Thakoon dresses often in accents of crimson and fuchsia. Although not an obsessive collector of photography, the designer likes to keep Laurie Simmons and Richard Dupont pieces in his home. Otherwise, Panichgul prefers visual restraint to foster his own distinct voice. "I have a big appetite for looking, and studying—but I tend to absorb quickly, glean what I need to, and move on. I like to keep a pretty clear space so the creative can happen when and where I need it to," he says. "I have a deep admiration for any artist who renders something original, useful and beautiful." Panichgul in his studio.

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