There’s no business like show business, and Thomas Tait knows that better than many on the London scene.
Last season, the 27-year-old winner of the inaugural LVMH Prize showed in a space that, while atmospheric, also looked ready to be condemned, with exposed electrical wiring and bits of rubble swept into the corners. This season’s venue, cavernous and warehouse-y, was in far better shape—although the show took place mostly in the dark.
Models walked on small, moving rectangles of light, and their clothes were barely visible—even from the front row. There was no flash photography permitted, so snappers shot the models backstage just moments before they stepped onto the cement floor.
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Tait’s reasons for choosing such an unusual—some would argue difficult—environment to showcase the collection are many. He was inspired by the work of lighting artist Michael Hulls, who’s known for creating 3-D environments on the stage, especially for dance performances. Tait had recently seen Hulls’ work during a ballet at London’s Royal Opera House, where only bits of the dancer’s body were illuminated. He also wanted to fragment and break up the notion of a traditional runway show “to slow things down” and force his audience to pay more attention.
Indeed, in a world increasingly dominated by social media, Tait wanted his guests to drop their smartphones and live the moment.
He said he watched a friend’s show during London Fashion Week and realized, at the finale, “no one was clapping because they were all taking photos. Social media is great, and it plays a very valuable role in getting the word out about a brand. But there’s just something about a live event; it’s such a shame for people not to be involved.”
Tait said he liked the idea of dipping people into his point of view, and offering them the chance to walk out of the show with something “less tangible, more atmospheric and emotional.”
The Canadian-born Tait, who at 24 was the youngest student to complete the Central Saint Martins women’s wear M.A., is acutely aware of the risks he can still take as a young talent.
“I still feel like I’m in a sweet spot with my brand,” he said. “I don’t have the immediate commercial pressures of having to spoon-feed information to legions of fans and consumers. The show was a really nice opportunity for me to enjoy that moment, and be in a position where I can do something that feels more intimate—and special.”
Although the show didn’t come off exactly as planned—the space was darker than he’d originally intended because the light test had been delayed and it was too late to make any changes—something about it worked: The designer said he’s doubled his number of stockists this season, adding edgy stores such as The Broken Arm in Paris’ Marais neighborhood to a roster that already includes Jeffrey, Dover Street Market, Le Bon Marché, The Room and Matchesfashion.com.