Last month I went onto a live panel chat at Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio to talk about Thomas Tait Spring/Summer 2015. I love SHOWstudio. It’s welcoming and friendly, not how you think fashion might be, but right at the heart of everything anyway.
I was looking forward to Tait’s show. The buzz around the Canadian-born designer has been constant since 2010 when he emerged with an MA in womenswear from Central St Martins. Even at his MA show, Tait’s work stood out. Angular constructs, inspired by shoulder blades and pelvic bones, masterfully cut, in uncompromising black told of a designer with confidence and vision.
Plaudits and awards have followed thick and fast: that year, he was chosen by Daphne Guinness, Manolo Blahnik and Stephen Jones to win the first Dorchester Collection Fashion Prize; he joined BFC NEW GEN and garnered Zaha Hadid as a fan.
This year, Tait won LVMH’s first ever Young Fashion Designer Prize (€300,000 to invest plus a year-long mentorship). In case you hadn’t spotted it, THIS IS A BIG DEAL. The judges were Karl Lagerfeld, Nicolas Ghesquière, Marc Jacobs, Riccardo Tisci, Raf Simons, Phoebe Philo, Kenzo’s creative duo Humberto Leon and Carol Lim and Delphine Arnault. If they don’t recognise raw talent when they see it, we might as well give up now.
LVMH’s other British protégées shoemaker Nicholas Kirkwood and J. W. Anderson are doing stratospherically well. With this kind of backing, Tait’s star is set to rise dramatically.
And yet … I didn’t enjoy SS15. It was one of those moments in life – and in fashion – where you think, am I being a bit thick here? Watch the video and you’ll see that, at key points, I go very quiet. I should have said something but I was really, really surprised.
I sat there, next to the formidable but still lovely Lou Stoppard, Cobbie Yates and Hettie Judah, looking at boxy rectangles of fabric, yurky colour ways and the nipples peeking out through sheer tops. And I thought, why would anyone want to wear this?
Of course, wearability isn’t always a factor. But Tait was selling me a dream I couldn’t imagine buying. Later, I watched the show on Youtube and on the catwalk, in movement, the pieces had a fluidity and emotion that the photography at SHOWstudio couldn’t capture. But still ….
The consolation – very small – was that, after the show, other reviewers seemed uncertain. On style.com, for example, Katharine K Zarrella wrote: ‘It’s thrilling Tait is confident enough to venture so far outside of his comfort zone. But it was at the expense of the stern, flawlessly executed garments that got him noticed in the first place.’
I can’t find much other coverage of the collection – other than Vogue, who adored it and SHOWstudio’s Harriet Walker, who didn’t – and I can’t show you what’s on sale now because there’s nothing. It seems as if fashion is hanging back, waiting to see what Tait’s next step will be.
None of that means I don’t respect Tait as a craftsman and dreamer – and someone who’s going to take fashion into extraordinary places. And so, in homage to that, here are the ten reasons why I love Thomas Tait ….
1. He was the youngest ever student to complete the Central St Martins womenswear MA course – and one of only 18 picked out from his year by the much-missed Louise Wilson to show at CSM’s MA London Fashion Week show.
2. It’s a surprise he’s in fashion at all. He grew up in a quiet Canadian suburb. He wanted to study law. He didn’t read fashion magazines. His father is an engineer in an aeronautical company. He studied karate for seven years. See what I mean?
3. You’ll always feel safe wearing Thomas Tait. Outerwear is a forte; Tait’s designs cocoon and protect. The 2013 winter collection, widely regarded as a seminal moment in his career (it’s gorgeous) featured down-filled jackets, long, cropped, super snuggly.
4. He’s influenced by sportswear. I know, I know. Who isn’t influenced by sportswear? High end or high street, its silhouettes and tropes are everywhere. But in AW13, with its contrasting reflective elements, nipped-in waists on puffa jackets, its mesh and webbing, Tait showed just how fresh it still could be.
5. He’s realistic. It’s always nice when a young designer talks intelligently about marrying commercialism with creativity, the shop floor and the studio. At the same time, Tait admits his designs are ‘not for everyone.’ See what I mean? Realistic.
6. He has a very 360 approach to fashion. By that I mean, he’s involved in every aspect of his collections. Tait knows every piece intimately because he cuts all the patterns himself. But he’s also interested in the way an audience responds to it and the space it’s going to be shown in (see below). An item of clothing is not just an item of clothing: it’s an event, a moment, an emotion, a friend.
7. He gives good shows. He’s held shows in skate parks; AW13, inspired by racing car drivers, took place in a garage. He wants his shows to create feeling and drama, so that the audience picks up on the mood behind the collection. SS15 took place against a background of illusionary artwork by Georges Rousse that complemented and inspired the collection.
8. He’s cheeky. One of AW13’s most demure outfits featured a back split from floor to nape. And a crotch detail reminiscent of Miley Cyrus/Terry Richardson. And don’t get me started – again – on SS15’s flesh-coloured mesh tops. Plus, an invite to his London Fashion Week show once featured the word ‘Lesbians’ in the address instead of ‘London’. He may be quietly spoken but he’s a rascal.
9. Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of his silhouettes.‘The construction is meticulous to the point where each garment is as beautifully executed on the inside as it is on the outside,’ said Caren Downie, ASOS womenswear fashion director at ASOS, approvingly.
10. He’s strong on accessories. The crazy Sadzies frames he created with Cutler and Gross in 2011 sold like hotcakes. For someone who’s just been awarded a top prize by the world’s most powerful luxury group, this could prove handy …