Were you influenced by fashion while you were growing up?
I was born in northern Thailand and raised in Bangkok before I moved to the US at the age of 11. I always remember being aware of the how women dressed. In Thailand, lots of women would work at home as seamstresses or tailors, and their friends would come in with fabric and pictures of dresses they wanted. That fashion perspective has stayed with me since then.
You actually studied at business school - when did fashion design come into the picture?
I went to business school because that was where my family wanted me to go. Anything creative was viewed as a hobby rather than something you make a living from. So when I finished college I moved to New York and got a job as a merchandiser for J. Crew. In 2000, by chance, I got a gig as an editor at Harper's Bazaar. I quickly realised [editing] wasn't the path for me, so I decided to pursue design. It was intimidating at first so I started taking classes on my own at Parsons; I didn't tell anyone and did it over weekends to see if I would like it. In the end, it was much better than doing a degree because I could pick and choose my classes.
What was your first collection like?
My first collection [in 2004] featured many pieces that I consider to be twists on classics - it was and is still about reinterpreting what is considered a classic and making it different. I made items like a trenchcoat in clear vinyl and lace and a tweed blazer that was bluntly chopped with the lining showing. It was about rethinking a silhouette of something that is perceived as a wardrobe staple and giving it my own spin. There is plenty of deconstruction in my work and I like the idea of taking womanly or feminine fabrics and developing and using them differently.
What were your biggest challenges when you started?
I was lucky to be embraced early on so it all came easily. I never look at anything as a challenge because it would stunt my growth. I never look beyond the day I am living in. People ask me where I see myself in the next five years and I can't answer that. For me, I quit my job, decided to start the collection and that was it. It was an organic process and will always be like that. Even my collections grow this way.
Where do you get your inspiration?
For each collection, I empty out my head and then fill it with what's happening currently. At certain times I absorb visuals - whether its art, what's happening on the street - and it all comes together through a funnel. I isolate what I want or find a common theme which I use as a launch pad for the next collection. Mixing ideas is more fun than fitting my clothing into one category or another.
Michelle Obama is a big fan of yours. Do you think she's helped in raising your profile?
I haven't worked with [Michelle] personally but she's been wearing my clothes for two years so it's nothing new. In fact she's been buying them at Ikram [in Chicago] which was the first store to carry my line. What it does confirm is that a foundation has been laid and it's great to know that she continues to come to the collection. It's not just a press thing for her and it's nice to know that she loves it and that you are appealing to a customer. That's exciting.
How would you describe your style?
There's always an undercurrent in each collection that points to the Thakoon woman. It's an underlying sense of wit, something that's whimsical. There's always a comical but feminine thread that runs through, but it can also go up and down, whether it is more coquette or seductive one season, or more hard-edged or surreal like in the autumn collection. It's about playing around but with a common thread.
What does the spring collection look like?
There are lots of technical effects. For example, a blouse is covered in the front and then sheer at the back. I like incorporating details that only the wearer will notice. I also love prints and this time I've developed an abstract cabbage rose print and a rose on legs print with an artist called Laurie Simmons. It sums up the collection in a way - it's feminine but naughty. There's also an element of bondage seen on a white dress wound in black elastic tulle. I like to mix hard and soft.
Thakoon is available exclusively at Lane Crawford, IFC Mall, Central, tel: 2118 3388