In the street style circuit, Tommy Ton needs no introduction. For more than a decade the hawk-eyed 35-year-old Canadian shutterbug circled fashion week show venues, documenting the shining moments of the industry’s arbiters of cool. Ton’s catalogue of photographs has made its rounds of the esteemed voices of authority in the fashion realm including the likes of The New York Times, GQ.com and the now defunct Style.com.
However, four years ago, the course of Ton’s career began to change. When Style.com migrated to Voguerunway.com, Ton made the defining decision to venture out independently. Last year, he further derailed from photography when he took on the creative director role at New York-based independent label, Deveaux. In retrospect, the shift was years in the making for Ton, who grew up harbouring dreams of one day becoming a designer.
Playing the role of a photographer and a designer sit on two entirely different spectrums. The former involves taking a garment at its face value and the latter is an inquisition into its technical construct. To Ton, these preconceived disparities bear little weight or consequence to his work at Deveaux. The years he had spent studying the way people dressed and the manner a garment moved and fell on the body is sufficient field research to spearhead a career in fashion design.
“I spent 12 years watching people outside shows and I think that has been the best research for me. Watching the way people dress, it gives a designer a better perspective on what works, what people want to wear and what sells,” says Ton when T Singapore met him at Deveaux’s Fall/Winter ’19 showing in New York. “If you don’t have that experience grounded in reality, you make clothes that are unflattering and all over the place,” he continues.
Gender-fluid separates in relaxed silhouettes and contemporary outerwear are the building blocks of Deveaux's ready-to-wear line-up (left); Deveaux takes classic pieces of a wardrobe and rethinks them for the man and woman of the times (right).
It all comes full circle for Ton at Deveaux. The very people whom he had spent more than a decade observing from behind the lens are the very ones whose taste he seeks to appeal to as a designer. The three-year-old brand has its philosophy anchored in creating a timeless wardrobe guided by a progressive ethos. Its ready-to-wear lineup sees beyond gender, crafting silhouettes that sit just as well on a female body as it would on a male.
At the brand’s Fall/Winter ’19 collection, Ton sent down the same coat once on a woman and again on a man to drive home his proposition of gender fluidity. Far from concerned with chasing trends, Deveaux zeroes in on a niche — discreet luxury. For a brand in its infancy, the New York label has within a few years built a signature look — one that is recognisable even in the absence of overt monogram or logos. Today it retails at prestigious e-tailers like Net-A-Porter. Within the realm of fashion, Deveaux proves that one can hold their own without being a screamer or a shouter.
Here, T Singapore delves deeper into Deveaux’s psyche in a conversation with the man orchestrating it all.
T SINGAPORE: What is the direction that you are taking Deveaux to?
TOMMY TON: I think we just want to make sure that it is a very consistent, well-made brand. Our brand ethos is that it is “Made in America”, which is a rarity these days as a lot of clothes are made overseas. We like to make sure that we oversee the product in terms of making sure that the quality is always up to standard. I find that the moment you lose touch with where a piece of clothing is made, it becomes unnecessary clothes.
TS: What would you say sets Deveaux apart from all the other brands?
TT: I really don’t think anything spectacular makes us stand apart. We are a very small American brand grounded in reality and what we want to do is focus on making simple, beautiful clothes. I know that sounds boring but that is what we are trying to do. We are not trying to be the next big American brand, we are just trying to find a solution for men and women that is timeless and very easy to wear. Sometimes, in the fashion world it can be quite hard to find the perfect T-shirt or the perfect pair of pants.
TS: Deveaux used to be a menswear brand, what made you go into womenswear as well?
TT: When I came onboard, the founders had plans to do womenswear and I felt they needed help so I volunteered myself when the opportunity came and it felt like a natural progression as there was a demand in the market for more masculine, tailored clothing for women. In New York, surprisingly, there is a lack of luxurious sportswear brands. The Donna Karans and the Calvin Kleins are gone and New York is very eclectic and streetwear driven. It is nice that we are able to take things back to a more classic brand and I think we will continue that message.
TS: There is also a sense of gender fluidity. What were the motivations behind the decision to go gender neutral?
TT: I noticed that women tend to shop a lot in the men’s section now. A lot of the outerwear and the knitwear is made for men but during the show, we show it for both sexes because we feel that it is a right fit for both sexes. I think it makes more sense that way and the way that we design we don’t think of whether it is for a man or a woman. How I like to sell it is: if a couple is going to buy a coat, the wife would be like “Oh, honey, if you buy that, I could wear that too.” It’s like two-for-one shopping.
Deveaux's Fall/Winter ’19 collection keyed in on outerwear, presenting options that ran the gamut from blazers to coat and even ones that allude to a bathrobe.
TS: In terms of casting, you have a diverse cast. What is the message that you’re hoping to send across to your clientele?
TT: I wanted the casting to be very reflective of our actual customer. I don’t think of our brand targeting young model types, I think the kind of people who can afford our clothes are from 30-70. With everything being more inclusive these days, I think it was important for us to make a message with our show. People were very reactive to it.
TS: What do you have in the piplelines?
TT: We are collaborating with a shoe brand and we want to go into accessories but I think it is smart to take the time and make sure that we find the right factories and develop the right team. I think for many of the brands, the problem with expansion is if you don’t have the right team, you oversell yourself, and for now, we are just going to focus on ready-to-wear.
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