Thirty-four years into his career as a celebrity stylist, David Thomas is about to go public about the ins and outs of his career.
On July 10, he will share behind-the-scene tales about working with John Legend, Dr. Dre, Boy George, Angelina Jolie, Britney Spears and Lionel Richie among other top-tier talent at an event at Riggs Washington, D.C. Model and podcaster Eric Rutherford will chat with Thomas about his book “Vanity Project: A Tale of Fashion and Celebrity Styled by Dave Thomas.” After a celebrity-studded celebratory dinner last fall, the book launch was short circuited by the pandemic.
Instead of name dropping, Thomas plans to discuss how as a teenager, who wasn’t qualified to go to college, he first worked for a few years as a plumber. “I don’t think I’m unusual in the fact there are some people, who don’t perform well in a traditional academic setting. My school didn’t particularly cater to the arts. I couldn’t really spell. That was an issue for how you got graded for exams,” he said.
A career teacher advised that he leave school to learn a trade, so he embarked on a three-year apprenticeship to become a plumber like his grandfather. “Quite good with his hands and adept at plumbing’s theory side,” Thomas said he excelled at earning a prize for being “the most qualified plumber ever” in Gloucestershire. “I did well with plumbing. It just wasn’t enough for me. I was a small gay boy in a small town. My story is not unusual in that I ran away to the big city. In my case, it was because I wanted to meet Boy George and hang out with them,” he said. (A chance club sighting was the first encounter and by the age of 23, Thomas was styling the musician.)
Thomas later benefitted from a grant from the Prince’s Trust to become a self-employed assistant. He went on to work with Judy Blame, a stylist and jewelry designer whom Kim Jones has referenced in Dior shows, and other fashion stalwarts like Isabella Blow and Iain R. Webb. He joined British Esquire in 1991 as its youngest fashion editor at the age of 24. Under the magazine’s policy at that time, shoots with models were not allowed so Thomas first used regular people and then decided to pitch musicians, bands and actors in the early ’90s. “I figured out early on that I loved fashion but I didn’t really love the fashion world. I was way more suited for the music business,” he said, adding that Condé Nast’s Michael Roberts often spurred him on.
Guests at the upcoming free event will get a glimpse of 15 outfits that Thomas selected for key clients like what Dr. Dre wore to perform at the Super Bowl halftime show earlier this year. Those designs will be displayed at Riggs. “My justification for doing the book was to inspire other people to follow their dreams, not give up and really realize their potential. For me, taking it on the road and getting to meet people is kind of exciting,” Thomas said.
Having intentionally not asked Rutherford what he will be asked, Thomas prefers that the talk will be honest, but “it won’t be salacious.” If all goes well, other global events will follow in other places where it won’t be for the people that he knows.
The author is donating all of his proceeds from the book to The Prince’s Trust. Asked about the current investigation into allegations that Prince of Wales’ Charitable Fund had accepted approximately 2.5 million pounds in cash from Qatari prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim between 2011 and 2015, Thomas said he had read about that and that it wasn’t illegal. “I think the charity is more about the million young people it has helped — like me — to gain employment than it is about one person potentially, allegedly making an ill-advised decision. I don’t think there is any other charity like The Prince’s Trust that is set up to help young people who failed in the regular school system or had issues with drinking and drugs, or have come out of prison. It’s basically all of these kids, who have fallen through the cracks that people don’t really pay attention to,” Thomas said. “There are a million kids like me, so I prefer to focus on that.”
The Metropolitan Police Service’s investigation into allegations of offenses under the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925 is ongoing, a spokesperson said Tuesday.
To think that current clients like Richie, Legend, Dre and Josh Groban “kind of know you, want to work with you and respect you” still seems hard to believe for Thomas. “The thing about styling is it’s very personal. There is a lot of trust involved. You’re there literally, when they’re naked. But also you are in their private space when other stuff is going on. You basically see and potentially hear everything and say nothing. I never imagined that this would be my life — to be able to live in Los Angeles, have a house in Palm Springs and be able to do this job that I had a dream to do.”
Discretion is essential for the low-key and quiet stylist, who understands the importance of never dressing better than the client. A T-shirt, track pants and nice sneakers, but “nothing too flashy” will do. “You might know my work but I don’t think you would know what I look like. That’s always been the way that I did it really,” Thomas said.
Starting out, styling was all about fashion models and securing magazine covers but that shifted to celebrities and red-carpet dressing. “Even fashion shows are really about celebrity attendance and the coverage that follows,” Thomas said.
The book also has interviews with 38 notables, who influenced his life, like Philip Treacy, Paul Smith, the Spice Girls and the Backstreet Boys. The way he sees it working with high-profile people is a huge honor.
Thomas is also gearing up for the third drop of his signature collection David Thomas X in mid-September. That collaboration with an undisclosed singer will be revealed. “The idea of David Thomas X was to have this space to do interesting, creative things — whatever that might be. I love to collaborate. My job is in essence about collaborations. I don’t have the time or maybe inclination [to design.] I’m not a designer as such. I didn’t ever want to do two collections a year, four or whatever some people do.” he said.
Over time through different ventures, he has collaborated with Jack Victor, Golden Bear, artist Kid Zoom, Jason of Beverly Hills and Legend for Sperry.