Street-style photographer Tommy Ton’s new creative role at the label
You’ll likely know the name Tommy Ton as the doyen of street-style photographers, who shot the likes of Kanye West and Virgil Abloh together on his Instagram before people knew the latter was the former’s stylist. Ton was shooting on his site Jak & Jil before most people had Facebook, never mind Instagram. His work has graced the pages of Vogue and InStyle, and his snaps of influencers rolling up to fashion shows in Paris, London, Milan and New York acted as a calling card to greater fame for many a blogger and influencer.
Perhaps it’s only natural, then, that having driven the evolution and cultivation of the digital influencer scene – Ton counts nearly 400,000 followers on his IG – he should finally have cross-pollinated into the world of fashion design with New York-based, American-made luxury brand Deveaux, by co-designers Andrea Tsao and Matthew Breen. The label started life as a menswear collection; Ton’s arrival as creative director has ushered in the introduction of womenswear.
“Deveaux represents hard work and integrity, especially when it comes to how we manufacture our clothing – all within the US at factories with fair labour standards,” he says proudly. “I also love how inclusive it is – one of the great things about the name Deveaux is that it could be men’s or women’s, and it appeals to a wide age range as well.”
How does this former street-snapper, who was himself originally inspired by Japanese street-fashion photographers shooting for magazines in Tokyo, find the transition to designing silhouettes for women? “I do think designing for women is a lot easier than men,” he says, noting their predilection for greater experimentation, coupled with their willingness to embrace different silhouettes and proportions compared to men. But still, the male mindset is paramount. “We [Deveaux] never want to get away from our roots of menswear shirting and tailoring,” he says. “Sometimes I envision how I would want my alter ego – I call her Tammy – to dress. And the Deveaux woman is who that alter ego is.”
Which women in cinema does he envisage wearing today’s Deveaux? “Annie Hall, Gwyneth Paltrow in Great Expectations and Demi Moore in Ghost,” he says. And what are his go-to film fashion inspirations? He cites “Zoolander for a good laugh, Unzipped for a documentary, and Kill Bill for general fashion inspiration.” And what three songs does he imagine would be on the Deveaux woman’s playlist? “Queen’s ‘Radio Ga Ga’, Janet Jackson’s ‘Come Back to Me’ and ‘A Violent Noise’ by The XX.”
Ton’s film references mirror the classics-revisited feeling of Deveaux’s spring/summer 2019 womenswear collection. “We are always thinking about how to tweak and elevate essentials, and oftentimes that finds its roots in classic silhouettes,” he says. The trio push the envelope with fabrications, too. “While we still keep things luxury and use the best materials, we do try different fabrics, such as papery nylons, taffetas, plaid tablecloth or other unique blends that the mills are working on,” adds Ton.
The colour palette for spring/summer 2019 is discreet and subdued, in which nude and beige feature prominently, and also lends itself to the idea of androgyny. “The concept of ‘skin’ was the initial starting point,” says Ton. “We were thinking about our Deveaux woman as someone who only wants to reveal so much, and is careful and selective in what she reveals. She likes masculine clothes, but is comfortable with a certain sensuality and femininity. Both give her confidence and empowerment. We then contrasted these luxe feminine fabrications with the papery nylons and masculine twills from our men’s collection. We were thinking about this woman in New York and how she would want to look, but also how she would handle the city in the summer heat.”
Casting played an important role in Ton’s debut womenswear collection, having selected five women of varying ages and careers – including a model mother of two, a certified tea blender, a former forklift driver and a mental health advocate. “They’re women I know other women would instantly relate to and basically girl-crush on,” says Ton. “I’ve always found women of various ages to be the motivating factor in my street photography, and it trickled into the process of designing this collection. I think it’s really important, especially now, to cast models that people can relate to and feel that what they’re wearing is very accessible”
Were there any creative scraps over who and what they all thought the design for a Deveaux woman should be? “Only small ones over how sexy or sensual she would be, or how ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ the collection might be,” recalls Ton. His role is to focus on the creative side, and how clothes should be styled and hang, while Tsao oversees garment construction, fabrication and initial sketching, and Breen addresses fashion from the merchandising perspective and considers the margins. “It really helps that we all get along so well,” says Ton.
Deveaux doesn’t yet sell in Hong Kong, but its menswear retails at stores in Tokyo and Seoul. “The womenswear is still new to Asia, as it has only been one season, and we have no stockists there yet,” says Ton. “But we are looking to grow the Asian business with the best retail partners, because Asia is where everything is happening now.”
As such, the brand hopes to initiate some launches with stores and introduce the brand to consumers. And how does Ton assess our city’s style? “Hong Kong style is always on the cutting edge,” he says. “The customers in the city really love fashion, and it is about being in the know and being aware of trends.”
Thus far, how has Ton found the creative crossover from street to seams? “It’s been a lot more work than you’d think,” he says. “And I’ve been really surprised by how supportive my former colleagues and all of my friends were.” Let’s hope that support manifests in a Hong Kong store very soon.
Images provided to China Daily
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