Published in Arts London News.
It’s only his third collection, but the weight of expectation is heavy on Thomas Tait’s thin shoulders. The Canadian designer has the distinction of being the youngest ever CSM MA graduate. Shortly after debuting his collection last season in London, he beat out major talents like Mary Katrantzou and Louise Goldin to win the Dorchester Collection Fashion Prize and he is now designing his own line for ASOS.
A star is born
After completing a three-year technical diploma at La Salle College, Montreal, Tait went on to become the youngest student to be accepted and complete the CSM MA women’s wear course, aged 21. Other CSM alumni include John Galliano, Christopher Kane, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen.
Tait collects the Dorchester Fashion Prize 2010
His autumn/winter 2010 collection was selected by CSM to be featured in London Fashion Week (LFW) 2010 as part of CSM’s graduate work and his spring/summer 2011 debut collection was shown in Wilkinson gallery in east London.
Tait’s career has been watched closely from its inception. When Bronwyn Cosgrave, chairperson of the Dorchester Fashion Prize, announced Tait as the winner she said Tait “demonstrates a new direction in fashion. A star is born.”
From Canada to catwalks
Tait is sat cross-legged at a desk in his Bethnal Green studio, running his fingers through his long, mousy hair. The androgynous designer looks quite similar to the models he casts for his collection: tall and thin with angular bone structure. He is dressed in his working uniform: cropped black tracksuit bottoms, from his own label, a navy sweatshirt and black slipper-style shoes.
Taits A/W 2010 Collection
In a soft Canadian accent he discusses what motivated him to pursue a career in fashion, and given his success it is surprising to discover that this was only something he decided to do just before leaving high school.
Tait says: “I was passionate about several different things but I didn’t realise it was fashion. I grew up in the suburbs of Canada and went to just the public school so it wasn’t a fashion conscious upbringing and no one in my family works in the creative industries so it wasn’t something that I was really educated about. I don’t think I really made a link to fashion until I was 18.”
“Your understanding of fashion when you’re in the suburbs in Canada and the people you’re surrounded by isn’t what goes on the catwalks at Paris and London. It’s the very commercial aspect – like girls at high school wearing Ugg Boots and Juicy Couture tracksuits so I didn’t really have a grasp.
“I then noticed what was happening in London and I learnt about some of the icons of British fashion and those who have gone to Paris and the houses. I realised there were more niche things that were quite a bit more interesting and that it was a much broader industry but without being overly exposed.”
Consequently Tait went straight from High School to La Salle College. He says: “I hated it at first, it was a super shocker because when I decided I wanted to go into fashion overnight I was like ‘I’m going to be a fashion person, this is going to be so much fun.’ Then I got to school and I was like ‘oh, I actually have to make stuff and sit down with a sewing machine’, and for someone that has never touched a sewing machine before it’s completely frightening and overwhelming.”
Tait’s line for ASOS
The hard work is now paying off. Having just shown his third collection at LFW and he has also recently being asked to create a line for ASOS INC. Tait says: “[ASOS] called me and said they really liked my collection. They wanted to know if I was doing another season and if I was interested in doing something with ASOS.”
ASOS suggested doing a diffusion line which Tait declined, feeling that would be distasteful at this point in his career. “I said if it’s a different product I’d be super into doing that. I knew that I didn’t have the money or the means to do anything with leather goods, so I said why don’t we do a small leather goods range that could compliment my range and could be in little lower price point and something a bit more reasonable for ASOS.com. Then they just developed this ASOS INC project, which is essentially allowing fashion designers the possibility to have a range of products developed, financed and produced separately to their own range but complimentary,” Tait says.
The designing process
The designing process is something that Tait finds especially fulfilling. “I like the sketching and I quit like the first few ideas because there’s always a couple of moments when you get a gut feeling. The very beginning I really, really like because of the breath of possibilities and the general scope of what it could feel like in the end, which is really intimidating because you realise ‘Oh, this is going to be a lot of work to make it how I’ve envisioned it,’” Tait says.
Tait produces every part of his collection himself. The only help he gets is from part-time assistant Katie who works when extra manpower is needed. “It’s all in-house. It’s just me, I don’t have a production team or anything like that,” Tait says.
His autumn/winter 2011 collection is structured and minimal, continuing ideas he began to explore in his spring line. On the colour palette Tait says: “It’s both dark and light really. Basically it’s two combinations: it’s the combination of white and ivory and the combination of black and navy.”
Central Saint Martins
From CSM and working in the industry Tait has become acquainted with other emerging designers whose work he admires. “I graduated with Simone Rocha last year. She does great work,” Tait says.
Among the established designers who have influenced him is CSM graduate Kane. “I’ve always thought he was doing a good job. He was one of the big ones of my generation who just had a huge success story. Whether you are paying attention to LFW or not you know who Christopher Kane is, his story is iconic. He’s done an amazing job,” Tait says.
After seeing the hand-made clothes and talking to Tait, you get the sense that everything – from the scientifically precise cutaways to the architectural tailoring, has been the subject of great thought. Tait’s decision not to use neoprene or other stiffer synthetics, but to rely instead on detailed patterns to get the rounded shoulder or subtle sculptural fullness on the sleeve of a high-collared wool coat is a testament to his work ethic and attention to detail.
Tait’s Spring/summer 2011 collection
Next up Tait’s off to Paris to sell his collection, though he’s determined to proceed in a slow but sure manner. “I have an idea of the stores I want,” he says. “But I don’t want to get swamped in production.”