LONDON — London Fashion Weeks kicks off today, and as part of the five-day showcase the Canadian-born designer Thomas Tait will unveil his first women’s collection after receiving the inaugural LVMH Young Fashion Designer Prize, which comes with 300,000 euros, or $409,270, in cash plus a year of coaching from LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton executives.
He has collaborated with the French artist and photographer Georges Rousse on a series of large scale installations that will provide the backdrop to the spring/summer runway show. “It’s going to be a very collaborative show, which is really exciting, and it’s a Parisian artist so that’s kind of nice,” said the designer, who’s been spending time with LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton executives of late.
Here, he talks about the challenges of financing a fashion business, the vision for his brand — and his determination to preserve his independence:
WWD: What sort of difference has the prize money made to your business so far?
Thomas Tait: Initially, the reaction from the media was like “Oh my God! So fabulous!” And you kind of get the feeling that a lot of people are…hoping you’ll turn around and say, “Next season the show is going to be huge,” or “I’m going to bust out and do this big event,” or “I’m going to start a men’s wear division.”
Honestly, 300,000 euros can go like that when you have your own business. It’s not like I can turn around and open a flagship store, but it’s the kind of money that’s quite well-balanced in terms of what I needed.
WWD: How are you spending it?
TT: I haven’t earned this 300,000 euros through sale and profit, I haven’t done it by actually succeeding at designing clothes, selling clothes and distributing clothes. It’s a different thing, it’s a one-off payment and it’s not going to come again next year. So really the focus is to make sure that I can take this money and help my business to make even more money, which is an easy thing to say — but not an easy thing to do. I was struggling, I was really struggling before, so it’s not like we’re fine and everything is flush, and I can just develop a new project or make something a bit better than it was before.
There are things I need to catch up on, there are invoices I haven’t paid, manufacturers I haven’t paid, a small loan that I took out here that I need to pay for. A huge chunk of this money is actually going towards things that need immediate help – and then the rest of the money is going to be focused on manufacturing and making sure that I can accept all of the orders that I want to accept, without saying no to any of them.
I’ll be able to work with better terms, I’ll be able to know that I can actually go to production right away. The minute I get back from sales in Paris, I can book my fabrics immediately, as opposed to waiting for the order confirmation, which could take three or four weeks.
WWD: What kind of advice are you getting from LVMH?
TT: We’ve had some initial meetings here in London. I work with two women from LVMH, one who is based here in their headquarters, and one who travels to London and works with various brands who have partnerships with LVMH already, like Nicholas Kirkwood and Jonathan Anderson. So she comes here once a week to work with them and then sees me. One thing that I found interesting is that they aren’t invasive — which I think is great.
WWD: What do you mean by invasive?
TT: They’re really not pushing anything, they’re not trying to force this prize to be more than just a prize. They are just an open ear and a good soundboard for me. They haven’t sort of stepped in, and said: “Right! We want to have a look at your bank statements, we want to have a look at your cash flow.” The people I’m working with are not financial strategists. They are sort of brand strategists and they can put me in touch with the right people, if and when I need it.
WWD: So will you be talking to them about issues like manufacturing and advertising?
TT: The factories that they are familiar with — or that they own — aren’t necessarily the kind of factories that could take on my size of production. I think what’s really clever to do is to make sure that I ask as many questions as possible, that I get to know as many people as possible, and really do it as a sort of professional and social exercise. Obviously, I know they’re not going to snap their fingers and manufacture everything. They can’t do that, and the factories they are familiar with wouldn’t accept it anyway. But at least I can take the opportunity to make the introduction, build a little bit of a network and really get a better sense of how things work on their scale in view of maybe being there one day, five or ten years down the line.
WWD: Where do you see yourself in five or ten years’ time?
TT: I would love to have a brand that’s bigger. But I couldn’t see my business being something the size of Fendi or Kenzo – or anything like that. I would like to keep my brand more specific than that, because I know that I work based on my own personal life. You know, it’s not the kind of brand that caters to every woman. I’m not going to try and advertise it in that way or promote myself in that way, and I also don’t want to lose touch of my creative spirit. I don’t want to get to the point where I have such a well-oiled machine where I can just re-hash the same collection with slight differences every season, and it just works, and I can just be sat in the back seat. I’m not like that at all, I constantly want to challenge myself, so whether that be technical development, whether it’d be a creative adventure, it all has to be challenging and inspiring. I always need to feel the fire in my belly from what I do.
WWD: Can you be more specific about your vision for the actual business?
TT: In terms of the business’ growth I definitely want to focus the next five years on wholesale development, making sure I open up some more doors, that I create more of a rapport…with certain key stockists that I’ve been working with from the beginning. They’ve seen me through thick and thin over the last five years. So definitely expanding into new retail positions and then also continuing my relationship with my existing stockists. And ideally making sure that the company becomes profitable to the point that it can continue to expand and grow for the next five years — ideally in an independent manner.
WWD: I assume you eventually want to open stores, too.
TT: I definitely would want to expand into flagship stores. I’d be keen on doing it in partnership with someone. At that point we could discuss equity or ownership or God knows what. But I think, you know, if I were to open a store, I know myself and my style and my delusions (he laughs) and I wouldn’t be okay with having a cute little boutique in a little corner street in Soho or something. I want to bust out. It might only be a small rail of clothes, but the store is going to be amazing. It would be the kind of project, you know, that I would want to have as a creative opportunity as well, where I would like to function as an architect and build the lighting and sort of pull all of my resources and the relationships that I’ve built and do something that spatially is more than just a store.
WWD: What does the spring collection look like? Is it a continuation of last season?
TT: From a technical perspective there are certain things that are continuations of how I make things. But from an immediate visual, it’s very different from last season. When you engage with the garment you get it, you kind of go “Oh yeah, that’s a Thomas Tait kind of thing, and I can see where he got this from a previous season.” There are elements that are always evolving but in terms of a general visual it’s going to be very different.