Thakoon Wants To Get You Excited About Shopping Again

Photo: Courtesy of Thakoon.
When it comes to the whole "see now, buy now" conversation, Thakoon Panichgul has been at the very center of it: In December, it was announced that investment firm Bright Fame Fashion had acquired a majority stake in his then-11-year-old company — which would shift into a "real-time" business model. The designer was then notably absent from the official fall '16 calendar in February, and remained mostly quiet regarding this new immediate-but-not-fast fashion model. By the end of the summer, though, Thakoon was back — with a brand-new dot-com, a shiny new flagship (his first ever) in SoHo, and a prime spot on the CFDA's Fashion Week schedule.

Panichgul may be an industry veteran, but this season marks a lot of firsts for him: His first store opening, his first dive into a direct-to-consumer model, and the first real chapter of Thakoon 2.0. His decade-plus of experience is certainly helping him navigate the uncharted waters of this industry-wide shift toward in-season shows. We sat down with the designer at 70 Wooster Street, his new outpost, to talk about how consumers are actually buying in 2016, the perks of this new business model (such as the ability to buy Alexa Chung's snazzy Met Gala suit online), and how in-season shoppability might just beat the dark side of fast fashion at its own game.
Your brand has evolved markedly in the past year, but you're certainly not alone: Why do you think the entire fashion industry has changed so much in 2016?
"I had been feeling this movement for a couple of years now, because I see it in other industries — in fashion, I was seeing brands do direct-to-consumer. It didn’t feel right anymore to show something [on the runway] that you couldn't access for another six or seven months. It doesn’t grow your business, because by the time those clothes go to store, nobody wants them anymore. It didn’t make sense. It just felt like we needed to do something right away; that’s when we started to talk to investment partners who would understand that mindset. It just so happens that Bright Frame not only did, but also were looking for something like that in the designer space."

When did you first feel that disconnect between what customers wanted and what brands were offering?
"Two or three years ago. Even after the recession, we rebounded fine. We’ve always had a good customer base and a following; what we do sells really well. But, at a certain point, I think that every other component of the business — in terms of department stores, editors, everyone involved in the inner workings of fashion — were not jiving with me at all. Barneys New York was buying in a certain way, and that sold really well — and then Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue would buy other ways. At that point, I felt like the messaging was a bit all over the place, and I thought, Wow, I don’t have control over what I’m putting out there, in terms of my sensibility and my visual impact in fashion. I was being pulled in different directions, and I was beholden to that, too, if something wasn't selling. I knew that was a problem, and I kept saying, ‘We’ve got to change this. We’ve got to be able to control what we’re putting out there ourselves.'

"In the design process, I instinctively know what I like in terms of a print. I’ve always been that way. So, to be able to stay on course is much more refreshing now than ever. Whereas before, if I said, ‘Okay, this is the print that I love, I’m going to put it out there,’ department stores' feedback would be, ‘Oh, but our customers like this other thing.’ Well, you know what? It doesn’t matter anymore. Right now, it’s about what I like and what I want to do."
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Photo: Courtesy of Thakoon.
A look from Thakoon's first collection, "Fall 3."
Traditionally, a six- or seven-month lag allows time for feedback, from retailers or editors, to then narrow down what would make it to production. Is it problematic not to have that?
"No, because we’re going to get direct feedback now from customers. That’s more exciting to me. Before, editors dictated what they want to communicate in terms of their storytelling, and then department stores would grab onto those stories and amplify them at the store level. This shift gives me the ability to control that storytelling from the get-go. What I put on the runway now is what I’m showing in the store. It's communicating the brand direct to the customer, without having anyone else grab that story and pivot it towards their storytelling purposes."
Photo: Courtesy of Thakoon.
The designer at his first-ever flagship store.

With your new business model, is there a new customer you're hoping to nab?
"I don’t design with that kind of mindset. I usually design from the heart. In the past, when I've gone to a trunk show, I've seen a mom and a daughter buy the same dress — for me, it’s really just about what feels right, and that seems to work. Instinctively, if I just do what I like to do, I know that it works at the customer level. I know that it works at a designer level, in terms of my visual language that I’m putting out there."

There's been a lot of talk about the fashion industry's pace, since designers feel burned out from designing seven or eight collections a year. Could "see now, buy now" create fatigue, too?
"Yes, our new model is 'see now, buy now,' but I want to communicate it more as in-season shopping. I don’t think that when you see something, you want to buy something right away. There are things that you see that you might consider buying in a couple of weeks, when it’s still in season. In the past, you would be showing something on the runway and it wouldn't be available until the next season — that feels dated. It’s deliberate when we want to offer something for the customer to buy. We’re not putting out so much product where people think we’re burning out because there’s so much of it. It’s not about that. I think that ‘see now, buy now’ makes it feel like so much product, which is not the case."

Has this new schedule changed your design process at all?
"We’re not designing differently. Within one collection, there are three months’ worth — that was always the path, and that’s how we're doing it. It’s how we choose to deliver those pieces within the season that's changing. The production is done earlier now: Whereas before we would design, style, do the runway, get the orders, and then produce — now, when we design, we style, we commit, and we produce. The production process then becomes four, four-and-a-half months long."

Thakoon 1.0 was really known for its red carpet moments. Will evening wear translate well to a direct-to-consumer model?
"Of course. This is what I mean when I say it’s not just ‘see now, buy now,’ because let's say you see Alexa Chung's sequin suit from the Met Gala — you can consider buying it still, and we’ll have it within the season. It’s not that you have to buy it right away. That’s where the luxury part of it still lives: Sometimes, when you feel you have to buy now, it becomes low-brow to me. It’s too quick, and it’s too cheap."
Photo: Jamie McCarthy/FilmMagic.
Alexa Chung, wearing Thakoon, with Panichgul at the 2016 Met Gala.
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How are a customer's desires today different from five years ago?
"She wants the designer quality. She wants luxury, but she wants it faster and at the price point that she can understand. Price is a big issue for a lot of people — it’s about understanding that at a certain price point, you can get that dress elsewhere. So, the question is almost: ‘What is it worth to her at this time?'"

The millennial shopper is a constant subject of fascination to retailers. What do you think is so different about her that has traditional businesses so confused?
"They’re digital. They don’t go to stores that much anymore. Also, their mindset is that they can get things quicker and cheaper. They’re used to shopping fast fashion and to shopping at a faster pace, so they don’t understand when things are overpriced — and they won’t ever understand it. It’s a new language that designers who have been operating in a traditional sense have to understand now."

How do you combat the influence of fast fashion among shoppers?
"My takeaway from it is that shoppers want new. I’ve certainly been copied by fast-fashion brands, and I’ve seen it happen and consumed. For me, what’s really exciting [about the new model] is to still be able to offer new designer ideas but at a pace that’s faster, which means that fast-fashion won’t be able to copy me."

Has adopting the direct-to-consumer model affected your price point?
"We’re able to control it better. We’re not beholden now to a certain mark-up or middleman. We control the units, we control what we want to produce — that’s really given me more flexibility to design. As we grow bigger and bigger, I think we’ll definitely be adding breadth to the collection. We’ll definitely have to address the opening price point. We have certain [more affordable] things now, like jersey T-shirts with combination shirting-poplin or silk."
Photo: Courtesy of Thakoon.
The interior of the Thakoon store, located at 70 Wooster Street in New York.

Shoppers nowadays are more strategic with where they shop IRL — and you're only now opening your first flagship store. What's the value of a brick-and-mortar presence in today's market?
"Customers want experiences. They want to understand what the brand stands for. I think that [the store] is in conjunction with online shopping, with digital — it’s a full omni-channel experience. It’s important as a designer brand to have a physical flagship, because this is where people can get a feel for what your brand is about. Whether or not they come in and then go shop online at Thakoon.com, that’s a different story. We can encourage that as well, but it’s really about giving the 360-degree experience. Before, we were just relying on other stores to tell our story. Now, we’re telling our story."

In six months, where do you see this new model evolving?
"I think there’s a lot of confusion in terms of the Thakoon relaunch: We have e-comm, we have a store, but also our business model is changing — and that can be complicated for the customer. So, in six months, I hope we drill home the messaging of it, which is to be able to deliver you fresh designs from a designer-led collection at your fingertips, quicker, available when you want it, as opposed to seeing it and not being able to access it for six months."

What do you want people to take away from your new chapter?
"We want them to feel excited about fashion in a way that’s new and that is fast. It’s about consuming designer fashion in a way that’s a bit more energized. I got into fashion because it was such a fantasy — such a lifestyle thing and an experience that I wanted to be a part of. I want that excitement to be in fashion. I think a lot of people think there’s just a lot of clothes out there, but I think that feels really stale. I want people to be excited about shopping."
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