By Thi-Le Vo
Northwest Asian Weekly
What do Asian American and Asian designers Thakoon Panichgul, Jason Wu, and Junya Watanabe all have in common?
Their creations have graced the frame of first lady Michelle Obama, who is now emerging as a fashion icon. When she wore a J. Crew “crystal constellation” cardigan, it sold out on the J. Crew Web site within hours.
For the most part, Obama has disregarded big fashion names and opted to give spotlight to lesser known American designers, many of whom are minorities.
Born in Thailand, Panichgul, 35, moved to Omaha, Neb., with his family when he was 11 years old.
After receiving his undergraduate degree in business at Boston University, Panichgul began his career in fashion by working as a buyer for J. Crew. He then went on to take an editorial position at fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar.
Though he was entrenched in the business side of fashion, he yearned to be the person creating the designs that graced the pages of the magazine. From 2001 to 2003, he took tailoring classes at the prestigious Parsons School of Design in New York.
After making his first collection, his work was recognized and praised by style magazines, A-list celebrities, and, most importantly, the first lady. With styles that have a mod-esque appeal to the 21st century woman, it is no wonder why Michelle Obama decided to wear one of Panichgul’s dress on the day Obama accepted his Democratic nomination.
With an eye for detail and considerate thought in making clothing that accentuates and gives flare to a woman’s body, Panichgul’s collection is bold yet classic. The Thakoon line was released in Target stores in December 2008.
From the age of 9, Jason Wu had dreams of becoming involved in the fashion in-dustry. His work has been compared to Os-car de le Renta and Carolina Herrera due to his mixture of haute couture and modern outlooks.
Wu, 26, placed himself in artistic en-vironments from the age of 14. He traveled to noted fashion ca-pitals of the world such as Tokyo and Paris to study sculpture and fashion. Like many other designers, Wu enrolled himself at the Parsons School of Design and debuted his collection in February 2006.
With his roots in Taiwan and classic photography as an influence, he is able to produce innovative colors, patterns, and angles with his collection. His fashion line conveys chic and tasteful evening wear, and it even attracted the first lady, Michelle Obama; she wore Wu’s now-famous white ruched bodice dress to the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball.
With his popularity expanding after the Inaugural Ball, Wu says he wants to focus on expanding his collection. He now has plans to tap into the beauty and shoe business within the next two years.
Born in Fukushima, Japan, Junya Watanabe, 48, is one of the few non-American designers whose clothing Obama has worn. He isn’t the typical choice, either — Watanabe is known as an avant-garde designer. When Obama wore his asymmetrical cardigan to the Royal Opera House in London, it caused quite a stir; people either hated it or loved it.
Watanabe started his career after graduating in 1984 from Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo. He was a protégé for Rei Kawakubo, the head leader and founder of the Comme des Garcons, a Japanese fashion label. Watanabe went on to have his own line under Comme Des Garcons in 1993. In 2000, he balanced his artistic sensibility with commercial viability by teaming up with Nike and Levis to create a men’s line.
Not one to follow a road already taken, Watanabe is known for using innovative materials that are usually not in designer clothes, such as materials that are water resistant.
His summer 2009 collection is characterized as modern and stylistic African wear. (end)
Stacy Nguyen contributed to this report.
Thi-Le Vo can be reached at email@example.com.