Thursday, April 8, 2010

Voltage Designer Spotlight: Pafoua Thao

by Juleana Enright

During the 19th century, Parisian royalty, aristocrats and leading theater actresses would travel to Paris to purchase entire wardrobes from the lavish House of Worth, designed exclusively by the exquisite Charles Frederick Worth. Supplying women with special occasion wedding gowns, “undress” items like tea gowns and nightgowns, ornate masquerade costumes and couture daywear, the designer dominated the European scene with dramatic fabrics, one-of-a-kind wearables and lavish trimmings. Decades later, local designer Pafoua Thao of PFT Couture follows Worth’s “specialty” design aesthetic creating custom gowns for bridal and special occasions designed with couture craftsmanship and stylish accents. For her Voltage spring collection, Pafoua takes her passion for individual style and accessible couture experiences to the runway, showcasing everyday pieces for the woman who wants a little art in her step. Like Worth, she uses only the finest materials and lavish textiles and incorporates organic shapes, intricate details and fashion-forward silhouettes with tailored custom fit designs and sculptural masterpieces. Her Voltage line “Watercolors,” includes beautiful silk charmeuse prints with feminine forms and bold statement looks that easily transform from day to night wear.

We caught up with the Pafoua to chat about what it takes to design one-of-a-kind, custom gowns that match personal styles, her passionate career change and the complexities of designing as a minimalist.

Photo by Stephanie Colgan for Voltage: Fashion Amplified

l'étoile: For the Voltage collection “Watercolors,” you're taking your couturier aesthetic as wedding gown designer and evolving it into vibrant day to evening looks. How are you incorporating couture techniques and traditional framework into everyday wearables?

Pafoua: For me it begins with the material. I used luxurious silk charmuese printed in artful, abstract patterns that make a statement. I was told once to “let the fabric tell you what it wants to become.” I utilized the nature of charmuese, creating fluid, effortless silhouettes that complement the beauty of the fabric and the print. When working on couture garments, special attention is put into all aspects of construction – from fabric manipulation to intricate hand embroidery. I approach ready-to-wear differently, meticulously executing key details such as the cut of the garment, finish of rolled edges or placement of manipulated pleats. Minimalism can be very complex, balancing creativity, simplicity, and wearability, but if it is done properly, beautiful results can be achieved.

Photo by JWN Photography

l'étoile: You worked at a local design company for a decade. What prompted you to strike out on your own as a fashion designer?

Pafoua: With the decline of the economy, many local design houses were forced to close their doors. This new wave of change became a mixed blessing to let go of the old way of life and make room for new ventures. My experience working in the fashion industry and the change of times gave me the extra push I needed to pursue my true passion.

l'étoile: What perspective do you think you bring to custom gown design? And how do you make your custom work accessible to everyday people?

Pafoua: For my fashionistas, I create striking gowns which make them stand out at special events. For my brides, I create luxurious one-of-a-kind gowns that become a part of their treasured memories. For everyone, I create an opportunity to express their personal style through beautifully crafted, perfectly fitted clothing. I keep my prices reasonable by minimizing overhead costs and working in my well equipped home studio. With the launch of “Watercolors,” I hope to continue offering RTW (ready-to-wear) clothing through local boutiques.

Photo by Staci Schwartz / Voltage Media & Buyers preview

l'étoile: What Twin Cities spots do you draw inspiration from and how do they inspire you?

Pafoua: Reflecting upon the dresses I’ve made in the past, I’ve looked to historic buildings like the Landmark to inspire graceful architectural silhouettes. A blossoming orchard in my neighborhood inspired a duchess silk gown covered with hand embroidered flowers. Inspiration comes in endless forms and that is what inspired my tagline “exquisite hand crafted gowns that capture your inspiration.”

l'étoile: What advice do you have for up-and-coming local designers to advance in the fashion community and get noticed?

Pafoua: I strongly believe that you should not feel regret for your actions but should always learn from them. There are so many things that I did that cost money, time and effort with no monetary payback, but by doing them I met countless friends and resources who made it possible for my work to be seen. Art is not meant to be kept to yourself…we must share it.

For more information on Pafoua Thao and PFT Couture click HERE

For more info on Voltage: Fashion Amplified and to purchase tickets to the April 16th event at First Avenue click

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