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Thomas Tait: Montreal-born designer brings modern minimalism to London fashion world

“I organized the show myself during London Fashion Week, in a gallery away from the centre, at the end of a street that only people from the area were familiar with. I invited friends and fashion industry people I knew”, recalls Montreal-born, London-based fashion designer Thomas Tait. In an age of digital hype, the event held last October had blogs buzzing, with The Business of Fashion’s founder Imran Amed leading the charge.

On his site, Amed noted that editors from American Elle, Vogue and Vanity Fair had made the trip to Wilkinson Gallery to survey the talent of the Canadian kid the fashion elite was obsessed with (Tait’s dad is British, while his mom is Québécoise). The show started an hour late, but got rave reviews. Focus and coherence came up a lot when describing Tait’s vision, and Vogue.com acknowledged that his sculptured, lean tailoring of rich black and white fabric was one to watch out for among the hundreds of fashion graduates the capital churns out every year. NIGHTLIFE phoned Tait to chat about his impressively speedy ascension.

Fashion chronology
Three years ago, Tait was a 20 year-old LaSalle College graduate working part-time at Old Montreal shop Reborn (during our interview, he refers to owner Brigitte Chartrand as “brilliant”). Very tall, wafer-thin and fair-skinned, Tait could have easily modeled for Hedi Slimane in the designer’s Dior Homme heyday. In 2008, he was awarded a sponsorship by the Fondation de la mode de Montréal, allowing him to pursue his only goal back then: to study fashion at London’s Central Saint Martins (alumni include Stella McCartney and the late Alexander McQueen). “This was the only place I wanted to go to,” says the confident Tait over the phone, taking a breather after another night of work in his home workshop.

Tait appreciates the attention, but acknowledges he has a long way to go to achieve the success he aims for. “The recognition from decision-makers is very reassuring. It’s nice to see support, to see eye to eye with people.” But he knows it will take more than online buzz and accolades to fuel production and build a real business. At the moment, he doesn’t have anyone handling press or sales, only a studio assistant and two interns to help him bring his latest collection to life, one garment at a time. He tells me he doesn’t have a clue how he’s going to fund the Spring/Summer collection. Humbly, he mentions he wouldn’t mind acquiring greater experience as part of an established company with significant resources.

Realistic is a word Tait seems quite fond of. Prior to distribution, he says the product has to be appropriate, and when asked if he would want Canadian stores to carry his eponymous line, he wisely states that the market on our shores is not compatible (yet) with the price range (high) and aesthetic (minimalist) of his pieces. He is also reluctant to cite designers as influences, noting that Canadian media were the only ones to make a connection between Rad Hourani’s androgynous silhouettes and his dark tailoring. He mentions that he is more influenced by the autobiographical value of the body than by specific individuals or stories.

In November, Tait was awarded the very prestigious Dorchester Fashion Prize, a sponsorship that has given him the financial backing to take part in this season’s London Fashion Week (he presented his Fall/Winter line at the end of February); Daphne Guiness and Manolo Blahnik sat on the jury. The legendary shoe designer said of him: “Thomas has such potential. The couture of it, the lines – his work is exceptional and wonderful.” Not too shabby for a Dorion-raised kid who used to work in retail.