BoF Exclusive | First Look at the brand new Thakoon.com and behind-the-scenes webisode

Webisode sneak peek of Thakoon Pre-Fall 2011

NEW YORK, United States — The landscape of fashion communication and commerce continues to change radically, and not just for big brand innovators like Burberry and Louis Vuitton. For a whole generation of formerly “emerging” designers — including Proenza Schouler, Alexander Wang and Thakoon Panichgul — digital innovation is now a central part of their strategies for taking their businesses to the next level.

On Thursday at the Independent Fashion Bloggers conference — part of Social Media Week here in New York — I interviewed Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez of Proenza Schouler, who told a rapt audience of more than 200 fashion bloggers how social media is dramatically changing the way they think about the way they work, the way they sell and the way they communicate with consumers, driving sales and interest in their brand amongst a younger, tech-savvy consumer.

Following a return to form at his A/W 2011 show on Saturday, the ever energetic Alexander Wang is opening his first flagship store here in New York this week, but is also making substantial investments in his online presence, with a revamped website and online store to open later this year. “We see digital as fundamental to our development as a brand, and one of the most powerful ways for us to connect with our customers,” said Dennis Wang, the designer’s brother and CPO.

Big digital moves are also being made by Thakoon Panichgul, the Thai-American designer who became a household name to consumers around the world when Michelle Obama wore a floral print dress he designed on the evening Barack Obama accepted the 2008 Democratic Nomination, and as one of the stars of The September Issue, the popular film chronicling Anna Wintour’s reign as Editor-in-Chief of American Vogue.

Today, Panichgul confidently explains to BoF how the brand new Thakoon.com will bring his brand straight to consumers, bypassing those once uber-powerful magazines with direct communication initiatives like the brand new Thakoon Studio Diary blog, a consolidated social media landing page, and video webisodes showing life behind-the-scenes at Thakoon.

BoF: At our BoF Breakfast Club meeting late last year, you expressed some frustration at the state of digital in fashion. Is that why you are now taking matters into your own hands and leading the charge?

Thakoon: Yes, in part. I want us to speak a little louder and have more control of what we are saying in the digital world, as opposed just having an audience that justs chats about the brand. I think the frustration also came out of a little lack of understanding on my part; but now that I’m really in it and understand it, I’m totally excited by it and enjoy taking part in the community.

BoF: The initiatives planned for Thakoon.com include big investments in content, commerce and community initiatives. How will the new Thakoon.com help drive the business?

Thakoon: Thakoon.com will allow us to communicate our message to a global audience.  For us it is more about branding and letting our customer know who we are as opposed to showcasing product.  We want to allow visitors to make a personal connection with the brand.  There is so much character behind a brand that gets lost in translation when going through the traditional channels of designer to retailer to consumer.  There is value in this character…it is our DNA.  We want to show our customer what we find so special about our brand.

BoF: How will you measure success?

We will measure our success by how well we stimulate and engage our consumer with our content.  Our main objective is to increase brand awareness, so this increased awareness will be a true measure of the success of the initiative.

BoF: You will be revealing a series of video ‘webisodes’ on your new website beginning today showing what happens behind the scenes in your studio. But some people say that having cameras around all the time leads people to feel like they have to ‘perform’. How do you keep things real, knowing that you are constantly being watched?

Thakoon: We are in such rapid growth mode, so there is so much happening all the time that I’m focused on the job in front of me that I don’t even notice the camera. Also the camera is super tiny and the filming is very casual so that makes it easier. We don’t have a boom and a crew with lights so there’s no performance necessary. The way we are documenting is much more intimate, spontaneous.

BoF: Will viewers be able to participate or is this purely a voyeuristic experience?

Thakoon: I think it will evolve naturally, like anything. It’s totally new for us that we will figure out what is interesting and what’s not over time. But I believe in the organic process, doing things as it comes because it has to be genuine. So anything that we do voyeuristically or if we ask for audience participation, all of that will come if it makes sense.

BoF: Your e-commerce site is due to launch in the summer. Is the entire Thakoon product range available to buy online?

Thakoon: For now, we will not make the entire range available. Our philosophy has always been slow and steady. We want to start slowly, offering a selection of what we feel are key pieces.

BoF: The new Thakoon.com is being billed as the “first stage of the company’s new media initiative.” What’s to come?

Thakoon: I think of it as a new platform where we can really play. Obviously it would be exciting to do ad campaigns, but in time. For now, this new platform really gives us so many opportunities, because you have control, you have a voice, you have a great audience. It’s a new way of marketing, which is totally exciting. The sky’s the limit.

Thakoon.com launches today with a livestream of Thakoon’s A/W 2011 show at 6pm EST.