NEW YORK — Some young designers like to cause a ruckus. Not James Thomas. With a knack for quiet chic that goes well beyond his years, Thomas, a 31-year-old graduate of the Royal College of Art in London, has turned out a collection that’s steeped in sophistication. And it’s only his second season.”I don’t believe in clothes that shout,” he says. “With my clothes, only when you get close do you realize they’ve been approached in a different way.”
After a three-year stint at Calvin Klein, the British-born designer decided to strike out on his own. But while his elegant fall collection demonstrates just the kind of artsy polish Klein himself is known for, Thomas quickly realized that the business tips he picked up along the way would be just as valuable. “At Calvin, you learn discipline, and you need it to run your own business,” he says, “especially for the quality I want to bring to my clothes.” And especially when the first store appointment of your young career is scheduled for Sept. 11. “For a while, it was like hitting my head on a wall, but it’s actually a great time to be starting out,” says Thomas, who has financed the label himself. “In times like these, there are always great changes happening — if you can hold on.”
And Thomas doesn’t scare easily. He likes nothing better than locking himself in his Brooklyn design studio and getting down to work. “I’m not interested in going to parties,” he says. “I’d like to build a strong brand, a stable business, not a boom and a bust. It should be gradual, so that the customer gets used to my clothes because what I do is quite serious, really.”
Fall’s serious chic comes by way of filmy shirtdresses, boxy tuxedo jackets and long coats, all oversized but with a body-skimming sexiness, and with retail prices that range from $320 for a sweater to $1,300 for a hand-woven cotton coat.
Unlike other neophyte designers, now that he’s independent, Thomas avoids studying the work of his elders and likens his East Williamsburg remove to that of Antwerp. Research comes not from flipping through magazines, but when his wife, Siobhan, an architect, test-drives the clothes. But just like his peers, Thomas is thoroughly dedicated to his vision, practical or not. If Siobhan prescribes a change? “It doesn’t mean I do anything about it,” he says, smiling. “I’m quite stubborn.”