A lesson in Thakoon economics

Now that New York fashion designer Thakoon Panichgul's star is rising, thanks in part to Michelle Obama wearing his flowery frocks, everyone is eagerly awaiting his Target line, which arrives in stores Dec. 28.

I recently got my hands on a few of the samples, and they are adorable but shockingly similar to his spring 2008 collection. The blue and white shibori shirtdress, the "cyber floral" print circle skirt that ties at the waist, the preppy navy and green-striped dress -- they're all there, albeit with shorter, junior-ified hemlines.

Thakoon ripped off Thakoon.

Which isn't such a big deal, except to those of us who spent money on the real thing. I bought two skirts from the runway collection. And for what I paid for them, well, I could have bought the whole Thakoon for Target collection, whose pieces are priced from $16.99 to $44.99. So, I'm not so sure how I am going to feel when I see watered-down versions of my skirts walking down the street in a few months. The Target line also includes a darling shibori print cardigan ($32.99), "cyber floral" print bikini tops and bottoms ($16.99 each) and a knockout "floral camo" print coat ($44.99).

It's not as though this kind of self-referencing hasn't happened before. Proenza Schouler's 2006 Target collection had the same palm-leaf motifs as the label's spring runway collection from the previous year, but the pieces were not quite as similar as those in Thakoon's two collections.

Of course, there are some subtle distinctions in quality -- but not many. The shibori skirt I bought at Neiman Marcus is lined. But who needs a lining in a summer skirt? My skirt is a slightly softer cotton, but they are both nicely finished with buttons that are virtually indistinguishable.

I know the difference, and I guess that should matter. But really, I feel rooked.

Still, it's a good lesson. Because I've realized that the skirts I bought were too expensive in the first place. A cotton skirt shouldn't cost $800, it just shouldn't. I was on a spending binge like the rest of the world, and that mind-set is partly to blame for the sorry shape we're in now. (Let's hope retailers learn the same lesson and take a hard look at their markups.)

Does this mean I won't be going to Target on Dec. 28? Not a chance. The $29.99 yellow pleated-front Thakoon for Target blouse is going to look amazing with my shibori skirt. High-low dressing indeed.