Renowned designer Thakoon Panichgul is back to work after a two-year sabbatical from the world of fashion:

“I traveled — went to Cuba, went to Mexico City, went to Bali, went to Thailand, Marrakesh. I needed time to open up the mind and figure out what this fashion world is all about,” he said.

In this week’s episode of the Glossy Podcast, Jill Manoff sits down with Panichgul to discuss what today’s consumers want in a clothing brand and why he’s a firm believer in the DTC model. Edited highlights below.

Instagram is a big mixer, but not an equalizer:
“Social media is so powerful, but it’s not a monolith for fashion. We’ve been all pushed into this one sort of space, but within this space, there are niches still. And we can’t all operate the same way — especially with a luxury brand coming into the space and sharing it with a Target or a Kohl’s. They can push products, but luxury brands have to push something else, because ultimately, at the price point they’re charging customers, the customer needs time to consider those purchases. I think anything above $500 today is a considered purchase, even for the luxury customer.”

On designing pragmatic clothes:
“I think quality is being overlooked now. It’s being overridden by convenience, and I don’t think it should be. I think we’re in the business of fashion, but we’re also in the business of making beautiful pieces the customer can enjoy. […] I want to design clothes for women in a way that makes sense for her lifestyle. I’m not here to design 200 pieces for runway for entertainment value. I’m here to make clothes in an edited way.”

Cutting costs like an entrepreneur:
“When we set this objective, it was like, ‘Gosh, how are we going to do this?’ I know what it’s like, I know what materials cost, I know what manufacturing costs because I’ve done it down the runway. If we’re expecting the same quality in terms of what I’d done before to now, there’s no way. But if you dig and dig, you really start to understand that there are ways; you just work smarter. You hone into the pieces that you believe in, and you design really well into them. And then you go to the fabric mills, and you go out to the factories, and you say, ‘OK, this is a new business proposition altogether. If you want to partner with me, I want to partner with you.'”

Without DTC, a lack of control over brand image:
“What happens is that, especially with retail, you’re kind of being dictated by the retailers how they want to position you. So for example, Barney’s would say, ‘OK, we do really well with your shirt dresses and your knitwear, so we only want to buy those pieces, with a little bit of other feminine stuff.’ And then Bergdorf would be the opposite, where they’d say ‘OK, we only want printed silk dresses from you.’ So, you know, when you kind of play up to that, because you have to, because those accounts are quite large. All of a sudden, the customer starts to see you ‘fragmentedly.’ And so you don’t have control in the messaging you want to build for the brand.”