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Tim Hamilton’s Womenswear Debut: No Boys Allowed

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Disregard the name. According to Tim Hamilton, it’s giving people the wrong impression. “People hear ‘Tim Hamilton,’ and they immediately think all-American, they think casual, they think sportswear,” muses the designer, restraining a sigh. “You can’t really control how you’re perceived, but honestly, that’s really not who I am.” Indeed, Hamilton has come a long way from his days in the trenches at Ralph Lauren and J.Crew: Not only has he steered his eponymous menswear brand on an ever more directional path since launching it in 2006, but now, as he debuts womenswear, Hamilton finds himself beating back those all-American sportswear expectations yet again. Fashion is, after all, riding a wave of interest in the unisex—witness Chloë Sevigny‘s new line for Opening Ceremony, or Stefano Pilati’s Edition Unisex designs for YSL—and Hamilton’s female fans may have anticipated, and perhaps even hoped, that the designer would jump on that bandwagon. But instead of riffing on his duds for men, or for that matter, conceding to the recession economy’s utilitarian mood, the womenswear he’s unveiling for Fall ’09 is both unapologetically luxe and exultantly feminine. “That’s one reason I wanted to show in Paris,” Hamilton explains. “My reputation doesn’t precede me here, quite so much. Although obviously,” he adds, “there’s still that whole name thing to contend with.” This evening, Hamilton will present his first womenswear collection at Galerie Ghislaine Hussenot in Le Marais; here, he tells Style.com about fashion fantasy, Iowan fabulosity, and the fastest way to a fashion editor’s heart.


Can I be frank? Your menswear is something I already like to shop, and it seems so adaptable to a womenswear aesthetic—I was a little disappointed when I found out you were going in a completely new direction with this line.

I get that whole thing, of going to the boy’s department, shopping men’s vintage, borrowing from your boyfriend’s closet. I really do. But I also feel like that’s more interesting than just, you know, buying something from a designer who does womenswear versions of his men’s stuff. It’s like, you want the cuts to be a little off.


You didn’t even toy with the idea of doing something unisex-y? That’s having such a moment.

It honestly never even occurred to me to do a woman’s collection that way. Not to sound like a snob or anything, but that wouldn’t have been a challenge. I wanted to think about women on their own terms—they shop differently, the trends move at a different pace, you have more freedom to be experimental. Designing a woman’s collection is like creating a world. Whereas with the men’s stuff, you know, I’ve kind of hit my mark, and so each new season comes down to establishing a few key shapes and then polishing up the details. There’s more of a premium on consistency. And I was ready for fantasy.

Tell me about the collection.

Well, it’s very aspirational, and very, very feminine, but also kind of hard. I’ve been working with a lot of black, and trying to develop textures within the fabrics. There are a lot of structured pieces—jackets and dresses that are bold and, I’ll use the word again, hard. But hard in a very specifically feminine way—like, the shoulders. I wanted them to feel more forties feminine than eighties futuristic. But the materials are quite modern, almost space-age-y. I am injecting some white, too, so there’s a graphic element, and I’ve done some knitwear, too, though I’m not really incorporating [those pieces] them into my looks because I want the presentation to feel more elevated than that. What else…oh, and I’ve done shoes.


To sell?

Unclear. Mostly, I just wanted a total look. I didn’t want to borrow or collaborate on shoes that wouldn’t feel like they were fully mine.


Were you drawing on any particular inspiration? Do you have a muse?

I spent some time looking at early-twentieth-century Vienna, but mostly, I was inspired by my mom. I grew up in Iowa, but I’m actually half Lebanese, and my mom, she always had this exotic look. She traveled a lot, and she dressed like she lived…wherever. Very elegant, always in black, with lots of thick black eyeliner. And then in the meantime, my dad was this kind of blue-collar, dressed-down kind of guy.

So, just to throw out a little dime-store psychology, it’s kind of like your menswear label is your dad, and the womenswear is your mom?

Well, I think the menswear is more editorial or forward or whatever than that.

OK, question withdrawn. Sorry to get all Lucy from Peanuts on you.

No, there is something to the pop psychology. I mean, as a designer, you do work from a deeply personal place. And maybe my wanting to give the womenswear its own space does go back to the fact that my parents presented such a contrast with each other.

What made you decide to show in Paris?

Part of that decision was based on the calendar—I produce everything in Italy, and it was just going to work out better. And then, I don’t know, I guess I just felt like the collection would be
More…digestible. Not that people wouldn’t get what I was up to in New York, but the vibe in Paris seemed more right. And also, I’ve got less of an audience for my menswear in Europe, so I suppose I’m hoping that my womenswear will be subject to fewer comparisons if I show here.

Do you have anything special planned for the presentation?

It’s pretty straightforward. 24 looks—maybe 26, we’ll see. I’m trying to keep a tight edit, but I’ve been fitting the models these last few days and it’s just fascinating. I wish I’d done this ten years ago. But anyway, the main thing is that it’s seated. That was essential—all those editors tottering around on high heels don’t need another event where they have to stand around.

Tim Hamilton, I think I love you.

Well, I did I grow up with two sisters and a whiny mother. I understand women better than you’d think.

Photo: Courtesy of Tim Hamilton

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