Why Thomas Tait Won the LVMH Prize-------
It’s the 300,000 euro question: Why did Thomas Tait win the inaugural LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers? What sets him apart from all the other qualified finalists? After his victory yesterday afternoon, Tait told me he had no idea. “I was shocked,” admitted the London-based 26-year-old.
To be honest, I was not.
When I attended my first Tait show back in 2011, I had a feeling he was going to be “big.” Maybe it was because the then-24-year-old designer—the youngest to graduate from Central Saint Martins’ prestigious MA Fashion program—had managed to draw hugely important buyers from hugely important stores to his second-ever show. Perhaps it was the fact that his strict yet subtle designs were so entirely different than the work of his often-eccentric LFW peers. But sitting in that presentation, you could feel that you were witnessing the beginning of something special.
The Canadian-born talent launched his line back in 2010, and quickly earned sponsorship from the BFC’s NEWGEN. He’s carried by such retailers as Jeffrey, Louis Boston, and 10 Corso Como, and has a knack for convincing top editors to trek to the most inconvenient, albeit spectacular, London show spaces, like an abandoned grass-filled warehouse or a graffitied skate park. His success is made all the more impressive by the fact that his East London studio was founded with no independent financial backing and boasts only one full-time employee. “I’d like to grow it, as quickly as possible!” the designer laughed over the phone. “It’s really small-time.”
That may be the case, but Tait’s vision and dedication to doing things properly is anything but. “I told LVMH I have goals and, regardless of whether I win the prize, I’m going to go after them,” he explained. “Now they might happen sooner and smoother than I had planned. It will be nice just entering next season not wondering how I’m going to keep my head above water [financially] like I usually do.”
There are a few projects, though, that the prize will finally allow him to pursue. Handbags, for example, are on the horizon, and he’s aiming to produce shoes, which he’s previously created only for the runway. The M word came up, too. “Menswear isn’t urgent, but I’d be lying if I said that it isn’t something that interested me,” said Tait, who’s been known to wear his own sharp cashmere coats or trousers when the sample’s just right. “I haven’t really had much money to go shopping, so I’ve gotta make do!”
But back to the question at hand: What makes Tait so darn exceptional? For one, he’s old school, whether it comes to technical skills (he’s involved in the creation of each garment he produces), delivering his collections on time, or even sketching. “Karl Lagerfeld mentioned that he liked my illustrations. He said that it was a dying art in fashion, that it was rare, and that was really touching.”
There’s the fact that Tait doesn’t aim to please anyone but himself. “I never feel like I’ve done something that I regret to satisfy someone else’s desires.” Except his clients, of course. “I’d like to think that people approach what I do because they care about how they feel, and they think about how they’re dressing.”
He’s never relied on celebrities to push his wares. “I don’t necessarily lend to celebrities because I prefer to [dress] people I have a personal connection to or an appreciation for.”
And his ability to simultaneously remain constant and tweak his aesthetic, shifting from streamlined elegance one season to slick streetwear the next, is terribly sophisticated. “There’s a common thread throughout each collection,” he said. “But when it comes to the look, it varies from season to season because there’s too much to talk about and experience for me to limit myself.”
In short, Tait is talented, creatively stable, and his abilities extend far beyond those of any other 26-year-old fashion star. “Most of our struggles boil down to financial needs,” he conceded, adding that he’d like to expand his wholesale distribution and open a flagship down the line. But he acknowledges there’s a long road ahead. “I still have a lot to learn,” he told me. “This is just the beginning.”