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Leg Work: Thakoon’s Penchant for Florals

A funny thing happened to Panichgul?s flowers on the way to the spring collection: They grew legs.

Anyone who’s familiar with Thakoon Panichgul’s work knows he has a thing for florals. Remember the bloom fest of spring 2007? Or how about this fall’s quilted floral prints that gave way to the big swirling roses for resort? The latter even got a serious publicity boost last month when Michelle Obama wore the designer’s cabbage rose frock at the Democratic National Convention — on the night her husband accepted the party nomination, no less. But a funny thing happened to Panichgul’s flowers on the way to the  spring collection: They grew legs.

This story first appeared in the September 6, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

And not just any legs. These are sexy showgirl stunners, on wispy chiffon scarves and jacquard bloomers, variously posed like dance extras in a Busby Berkeley musical. “There’s knocking knees, legs open, tilted to the side,” says Panichgul, “and some that are just lying down as if a ballerina collapsed on the floor.” They’ll fit right in with the season-to-be’s garden-party trend. But there’s another treat here, too. Those leggy rose patterns are the handiwork of artist Laurie Simmons, who partnered with Panichgul for his prints. It’s that familiar intersection of art and fashion, but manifested here in a way that’s charmingly refreshing.

“It’s not collaboration for collaboration’s sake,” Panichgul notes, “but was born out of admiration for one another. It was very spontaneous and genuine.” Indeed, both are fans of each other’s work. Talk to Simmons about Panichgul, and she practically gushes.“I really flipped over his fall collection,” she says. Panichgul, meanwhile, recalls being at an auction in 2006 and putting a bidel in for her 1990 “Lying Book” photograph. It’s from her “Walking and Lying Objects” series and features a book on its side with a girl wriggling in (or out) of its pages — only her thonged derriere and legs show. “I liked how it was quite erotic in a nerdy way,”  Panichgul says. “I was really upset when I lost.”

Despite sharing some  personal connections, however, the two only connected last  year at a dinner thrown by art dealer Angela Westwater. Westwater is Simmons’ dealer, and her daughter is In Style editor Natasha Wolff, a close  friend of Panichgul’s. (Both are Harper’s Bazaar alums.) “I love to talk about fashion, and Thakoon loves to talk about art, so we were each trying to talk about what we wanted to talk about,” Simmons recalls with a laugh. “I was surprised he knew so much about my work.” The designer ended up purchasing a large print of Simmons’ “Lying Gun,” which  features a revolver with two shapely gams, from the same leggy 1990 series. The picture now hangs in his living room.

“Actually, I loved all the cake ones. They’re very fantasy for me,” says Panichgul of Simmons’ legged dessert images. “But, for the house, I  wanted something a bit more butch to balance everything else out.”

Those cakes, however, ended up as the starting point for this season’s florals; they’re topped off with sugared rose garnishes. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to do legs on those?’” says Panichgul. It turned out to be Simmons’ first time tackling blooms. “In terms of being an artist, flowers are something I would probably stay away from,” she remarks, “like kittens or babies. But it seems appropriate now and, in a way, really tough, too — blood-red roses on legs.”

For those deep ripened hues, Panichgul let the roses — ordered from New York florist Miho — wilt a bit before letting Simmons shoot them. The designer also hand-picked the mannequin legs from a drawerful in Simmons’ Brooklyn Red Hook studio. “It’s exciting that my work could have another incarnation in his clothes,” adds Simmons. “People will think they’re looking  at a floral print and then realize there’s more going on than meets the eye. It  sort of tickles me to think that a few people might recognize it as my work.”

Recognize and perhaps more. As critics and editors and stylists are wont to  do, there’s a lot here to pick apart and examine. Take the fetishistic element. “I wanted to play with sensuality and what is proper,” explains Panichgul.  “Those two ideas funnel into fetishism in a way.” Get heady enough, though, and you can layer in thoughts about anything, even the state of fashion industry  itself. But you’d probably be missing the point. “It’s not a commentary,”  Panichgul says. “At the end of the day, it’s about creating an interesting print  for the collection.” And Simmons’ take on it? “They kind of fly around on the fabric,” she says. “I see them as liberated from my pictures.”