He may be a darling of the New York fashion world, but designer Thakoon Panichgul is a Midwestern boy at heart. “Things move a little slower in Omaha,” he says of his childhood home in Nebraska. “The people are so friendly, so laid-back.” Panichgul moved there from Thailand (where he was born) in 1985, when he was 11 and “didn’t speak a lick of English”; he later relocated to New York City, where he worked as a fashion writer for Harper’s Bazaar before launching his own line, Thakoon, in 2004. While Panichgul’s Corn Belt upbringing may have given his business a populist bent (he’s created best-selling collections for Gap and Target, after all), signature Thakoon designs—finely tailored yet flirty pieces in such fabrics as silk organza and taffeta—are indisputably high-fashion, with clients including Marion Cotillard and Michelle Obama. Recently, Panichgul added jewelry to his repertoire by becoming creative director of Tasaki, infusing the Japanese label’s traditional pearl pieces with a contemporary edge. When the glamour of his jet-setting lifestyle becomes overwhelming, Panichgul retreats to the wide-open spaces and local haunts of Omaha. “Sometimes you forget how to be creative,” he says, “but if you go to a place that’s memorable to you, you’re able to get it back.” Here, where he goes to recharge.
8 a.m. Panichgul’s first stop? Louie M’s Burger Lust (breakfast for two $14), an old-fashioned brick-front diner. “It’s a classic, small-town place,” he says. “I love the bacon-and-cheese omelette.”
9:30 a.m. He’ll try to go for a midmorning stroll through the indoor rain-forest exhibition at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo (admission $11.50). “There’s also an aquarium. It’s phenomenal.”
11 a.m. “It’s like the Target of furniture,” Panichgul says of Nebraska Furniture Mart—a 450,000-square-foot store with “every style of furniture you can think of.”
Noon For lunch, he gets house-made tacos and salsa at El Alamo (lunch for two $17), a small Mexican place in South Omaha.
2 p.m. Panichgul will drop by Canfield’s Sporting Goods to check out the vintage army and navy stock. “Last time I was there, I got a big military tote bag for fifteen dollars,” he says. “It’s the sort of thing that designers knock off all the time.”
4 p.m. He often heads downtown to the Old Market district—a series of brick-paved streets lined with stores, galleries, and restaurants. Panichgul makes a beeline for Jackson Street Booksellers to browse “cool art books from the 1970’s that you wouldn’t expect,” such as monographs of Isamu Noguchi and Francis Bacon. He also stops by Trocadéro, a boutique for high-end home accessories (Diptyque candles; John Derian decoupage plates) that “you don’t normally find in Omaha.”
6 p.m. “When it’s nice out, I’ll have a picnic in the sculpture garden at the Joslyn Art Museum (admission $8),” he says of the Art Deco institution. Currently on exhibition: a range of realist images by local artist Kent Bellows.
8 p.m. Panichgul can’t go to Omaha without having a steak dinner at the French Café (dinner for two $90), also popular for its bar (he likes the martini).
10 p.m. Home to artists such as Conor Oberst, the city has a thriving indie music scene. Panichgul has seen the band 311 and other local acts at the Sokol Auditorium, a 1,400-capacity venue in the area known as Little Bohemia.