“I Have To Please Tommy; He Is My Guru”:
Anna On Tommy, Tommy On Anna
Anna Dello Russo is the woman who’s launched a thousand street-style blogs. The tirelessly exuberant editor at large of Vogue Nippon is basically synonymous with front-row style (not to mention giant fruit hats). But that’s thanks in part to Tommy Ton, who has made a subspecialty of documenting her numerous outfit changes in loving detail, both on Style.com and on his own blog, JakAndJil. He and Dello Russo will both be in Toronto tomorrow for When Tommy Met Anna, an exhibition at The Bay department store chronicling their ongoing friendship, and the many, many photos he’s taken of her since he first spotted her—in gold D&G mesh—back in March 2007. “She’s gone from Anna Dello Russo to ADR to…I don’t even know what you want to call her today. Anna Dello Gaga?” the Canadian lensman says of Dello Russo’s evolution. For her part, ADR is blunter: “He is my guru,” she explains. “For me, Tommy is now my fashion eyes.” Style.com spoke to the duo about partnership, four years and counting.
CLICK HERE for an exclusive sneak peek at some of the images from the show >
KEEP READING for our Q&A with Tommy and Anna.
The exhibition is called When Tommy Met Anna. Tommy, do you remember when you first spotted her?
Tommy Ton: I do remember the first time I photographed her. It was March 2007, outside Galliano. She was wearing a gold D&G chain mesh top. She was very hesitant about being photographed. And then the next morning at Nina Ricci, which was Olivier Theyskens’ first show for Nina Ricci, she was wearing a silver sequined dress and a fox-fur collar and I was like, what is this woman on? I couldn’t believe she was wearing this at 10 in the morning. I only discovered her the last two days of Paris fashion week.
The next season, that’s when I started to realize this woman really dresses up, so I started taking her picture. I had a hard time photographing her, asking her to stop, because she wasn’t used to the idea of being photographed. It took maybe a couple seasons to realize she’s like a creature in the wild—you have to photograph them while they’re being who they are. When she appears, it’s kind of like a movie set, like the stars on set—just to see her change multiple times within the day, I realized, this is someone to photographed. With the popularity of my blog, and featuring Anna so much on Style.com, I think that’s when people realized she’s a force to be reckoned with.
And what about the first official meeting?
TT: For the longest time, she was wondering who Tommy Ton was. She kept trying to figure it out. I’m very quiet, I’m very passive. One of her assistants found out who I was. On the last day of Milan, September 2009, she came up to me and was like, “You are Tom.” I was frightened of her, so I was like, “Yes, I am Tom.” And she said, “Good work.” And she just walked away. I thought, Wow, she is speaking to me now. That was the breaking point, that this woman who I was, like, stalking, was aware of who I was and what I work with and found out what I look like. From that point on, it became an interesting dialogue and then a friendship.
Anna Dello Russo: I met Tommy at the shows, of course. I remember, this phenomenon [of] blogs taking pictures of us…It’d been a couple of seasons, and the number of blog photographers was bigger. I think I was so clueless about this phenomenon, I was always looking at the JakAndJil blog. But nobody knew Tommy, because he’s in a kind of hiding. I remember [asking], who is JakAndJil? We would guess, me and my team—maybe he’s an Australian photographer, maybe he’s whatever.
Finally, a girl from my team said the photographer is called Tommy Ton. So many names! Tommy Ton, JakAndJil. During a show, somebody said, oh, this is it—and points [out] Tommy. I say, oh, that’s Tommy! Looks so cute! Looks so lovely! I came to him and said, are you Tommy Ton? He said, yes, pleased to meet you. I said, finally! Nobody knows who you are, how you look. He told me when we met that he used to photograph me and I used to be rude to him because I didn’t recognize him at the beginning. But I was just surprised about the phenomenon, shocked how many people were looking at us, taking pictures of us. But finally when I understood it was him, I came to him and introduced myself.
Did you purposefully avoid identifying yourself, Tommy?
TT: I always resist identifying myself to anyone. The moment you tell someone, the photo doesn’t seem the same. They’re aware that their photo is being taken—they might be a little more pose-y, not as natural. But Anna knows not to pose for me. But it’s gotten to a level now where she dances for me. She says, “Tommy, why don’t you do more poses? Just walking is so boring.” I’m like, that’s my thing. What’s really funny about her is that, if you saw Emmanuelle Alt dancing, that’s kind of awkward. But when you see Anna in this cherry hat jumping up and dancing, there’s just something really funny about that. It goes to show you how much fun she’s having with fashion—and the fact that she calls herself a fashion victim, or a tranny.
Do you have favorite outfits of hers?
TT: There was one time in the summer of 2009, before we even started talking, during the men’s season. She showed up at the men’s Bottega show at 9 a.m. in this one-shouldered red Lanvin dress. I was like, “It’s 9 a.m. and she’s wearing this one-shouldered cocktail frock!” She never passes this moment [up], to dress up. I knew from that moment she’s definitely one to watch. And that day, I couldn’t get enough photos of her. There was this woman in a cherry red dress popping out from the crowd.
[Or] last season, at Dior…she was wearing this Roksanda Ilincic big-shouldered feather jacket. When she wore it, it was really windy. The wind was blowing up the feathers and she said, “Tommy, Tommy, I’m flying!”
There are so many outfits. It’s hard to pick a favorite…she keeps outdoing herself over and over. When she started wearing fruits on her head, I said to her, the next thing’ll have to be a piece of cheese on her head, with a diamanté mouse on it.
Anna, do you have favorites from Tommy’s shots?
ADR: When I see his pictures, I think, ack, this is a mistake in my outfit! In the pictures, I see the mistakes. I think, next time…[But] I’m completely obsessed. I can spend hours with him, when he comes to me in my house; I’m really pleased to share this passion with him. To do the right outfit or get ready. He has such critical eyes. He made my outfit even more fragile. I’m super-critical. But I love. For me, it’s normal to make a mistake, otherwise your fashion will be exactly what it is, which is a challenge every day.
What’s special about Tommy’s pictures?
ADR: I like so much his pictures because he is always hanging around outside, to catch the right [shot]…when he takes a picture of me, he doesn’t take one. He shoots all day long. Maybe the right picture will be when the light is a little more cold, or hot, when the angle of the sun will be good…He keeps shooting, shooting, shooting. That’s a fashion photographer. It’s completely the right attitude to fashion photography. Never enough.
Second, he has incredible eyes for details. That’s a talent as a fashion photographer. To emphasize what you see. The crop has to be perfect. I like him because I always say you are like a shark. When you see people dressing, when you see fashion, it is like food for you. You are like a shark that is like chomp chomp chomp, eating food. I call him passive-aggressive, because he looks really…sweet, but he has this incredible aggressivity.
The best-dressed of the day, he catches. He is phenomenal in that. Sometimes, I think I missed the best-dressed of the day…if it’s Taylor [Tomasi Hill], or Emmanuelle in Balmain, or whatever. For sure, he has it. Always there, always there, always there. Like a shark, next to the blood. I love so much to see his eyes looking desperately for the new food. It’s like me…I die if I don’t get the right look. The right shoes…I can research shoes for three days shopping if I don’t find what I need. We share the fashion obsession.
And Tommy, what’s unique about Anna?
TT: What’s interesting about our relationship is people are seeing how accessible she is. The difference between her and Carine and Anna Wintour is that Anna [Dello Russo] is just so gracious, and so easy to approach. She’s someone who loves fashion, and if you’re someone who adores her and loves fashion, she’s more than willing to stop and take a photo, or just talk to you. Not everyone’s an ice queen. Last season in London there was this six-foot tranny with a blow-up wig or something. I said to her, go up and talk to the tranny. She said, “OK—why not?” That’s her favorite line. “Why not?”
Anna, how do you prepare your looks?
ADR: I put my life in the preparations. I prepare my outfits in any case. Never-ending research is a part of my job. For me, I have to please Tommy, he is my guru. This is my new blog guru. I need to surprise him! I need to seduce him! He represents the eyes of fashion. To find something new, it takes a long preparation. For me, Tommy now is my fashion eyes. When it’s Tommy, I should be perfect—everything has to look perfect.
TT: She always says that she has to please the bloggers now. She says she feels it’s her job now to dress up, whereas before she was dressing for herself. The fact that she plans months in advance, outfits for fashion month, and changes strategically two or three times a day based on the event, that represents ADR this woman, this fashion icon. Whereas Anna, if you’re speaking of Anna, she’s the woman that wears Abercrombie at home or at yoga.
I’ve heard that she wears sweats at home—frankly, I’d always thought it was a myth.
TT: The funny thing is, on the last day of Paris fashion week, when I went to see her to have a last chat, she answered the door in sweatpants and a sweater, but she was still wearing heels. I was like, Anna, were you sleeping in heels? She said, “Only for you, Tommy.”
Click here for an exclusive sneak peek at some of the images from the show.