Fairfax-based designer Nina Thirakul has been collecting issues of American Vogue since 1984—they live on a custom bookshelf in her basement. But that’s not the only hint that the Laos-born talent, who launched her latest collection of 1960s-inspired womenswear and new coordinating dog coats this fall, would find her future in fashion. Her mother was a self-taught designer and tailor, and she shared her skills with her daughter when she was 12. “I was genuinely interested as an apprentice, especially when I became efficient in my hand stitches,” says Thirakul, whose family immigrated to NoVA more than 40 years ago. “Catch stitches for hems were my specialty.” In high school, she sewed and searched for trends and knockoffs in clothing stores; she landed the title of best dressed in her senior yearbook.
Thirakul Designs, her namesake clothing brand, didn’t come until later, in January 2019. But design was a continued thread. She earned her bachelor’s in fashion design and an MBA from Marymount University, where her professors’ knowledge made an impact. Professor Nettie Graulich taught techniques like using horsehair in the collars of tailored jackets for structure. Professor Judy Bass showed her to “look at the human figure as an evolving form of beauty.” Thirakul eventually became an educator herself, spending two years at her alma mater and 12 at the Art Institute of Washington. She also worked with Chanel in DC for a decade. The biggest takeaway there? “I [learned] that a business must find ways to stay connected with customers but never lose sight of what it represents as a brand.”
Her clothing line also embodies that ideal with its focus on feminine cuts that draw on styles that were popular some six decades ago. “I’m so in love with early 1960s fashion because of its simplicity in design, allowing the wearer to express her individuality without much effort,” says Thirakul. “The emphasis is on quality and craftsmanship.” The coats, jackets and ensembles for you and your pup (her two standard poodles, Gabby and Louis, are her muses) blend a vintage aesthetic with modern elements, like fabric and color (she keeps up to date on trends).
Sure to be popular this fall are an easy-to-wear oversize cocoon coat with gusset sleeves in double-face wool and cashmere and a long fuchsia jacket in 100% Italian wool with silk charmeuse lining. Both are available with matching pieces for your fur baby.
“Just imagine walking down the street with your very stylish … pooch,” says Thirakul. She admits that she went overboard with another piece—a long black metallic jacket with a dark olive fur collar and requisite dog coat. “I’m not sure where [this] would be appropriate, but if you need to take your dog to a fancy party, you’re all set.”
Her semi-custom pieces can be found on her website (she initially carried them at Park Story in Fairfax before the shop moved to DC) and take about two weeks once an order is placed. She provides the measurements for each style, size and fabrication, and the client can choose based on her preference.
“The semi-custom option allows me to keep my inventory small, which is critically important for a very small business like mine,” says Thirakul. (Her assistant and former student Kate Carvajal keeps things on track.) As a local designer, it’s also important to Thirakul to support her community. Her penchant, naturally, is for smaller artisan boutiques and thrift or vintage stores—Amalgamated, by Shelley White, is a favorite.
“It is incredible to be a part of a [group] of artisans and designers in NoVA,” she notes. “Support for each other keeps us focused on our goals.”
For Thirakul, those goals are to continue to offer high-quality clothes using the best fabrics possible. She also wants to expand her doggiewear and, eventually, offer a small line of women’s accessories, with handbags and jewelry. Maybe we’ll even see her in the pages of Vogue one day.
This story originally appeared in our November print issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to our monthly magazine.