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Thomas Tait feature Pitti Dazed
All clothes and shoes by Thomas Tait SS15Photography Michael Avedon, styling Emma Wyman

Why can’t designers create without constraints?

With the fashion world constantly up against the clock, Thomas Tait explains why patience is a virtue – and goes head to head with three women who inspire him in an exclusive film

When you’re the guest womenswear designer at Pitti Uomo, it’s almost implied that you’re going to put on an all-dancing, all-singing spectacle. But Thomas Tait has always been a designer who leaves people guessing and explores what lies beneath the surface, so in a way it was only natural that his spot on the Florentine schedule was going to be about the opposite of Instabait and runway hijinks. 

Guests were invited to the tranquil Limonaia in the fragrant Boboli Gardens – a place somehow outside of time and space – for an installation offering a closer look at seven of Tait’s key runway pieces, recreated and evolved with the help of legendary Italian manufacturers whom Tait had been introduced to via Pitti. For a product geek like Tait, whose knowledge of cut and construction is mega thanks to his Canadian degree in technical clothing design prior to his MA at Central Saint Martins, this was a chance for him to refine and advance his vision.

The pared-back, quiet format immediately made you think of his AW15 show, where models walked in slow motion through an almost pitch black room only illuminated by pulsating floor lighting; a setup that demanded your undivided attention and dialled the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it catwalk pace way, way back. The show was a much-needed comment on our industry’s constantly accelerating need for speed and our ever-shrinking attention span, and Tait’s Pitti contribution picked up where this reflective mood left off with a perfectly executed concept. 

First up as you walked in were two pairs of thigh high boots: one, the original – nude lycra with printed silicone spots from SS13 – and the other, the 2.0 version – purple stretch suede with orange 3D patent leather spots, perched atop a Colombo heel. Elsewhere, a red patent biker had been glossed to perfection and received perverse stitching across the back, and a yellow and transparent knit jumper from SS15 was reborn as a white opaque and translucent masterpiece.  

Last year, when I interviewed Thomas Tait for the Dazed 100 list, he had just shown SS15 after winning the LVMH Young Fashion Designer prize. It had been a bittersweet moment for him: fifty percent of his fabrics weren’t delivered until four days before the show, resulting in a number of key looks getting cut from the line-up. Prize or no prize, being a young designer tends to get you bumped to the back of the priority queue at mills and manufacturers. We as guests didn’t know – and the collection was beautiful nonetheless – but Tait knew, and confessed it took everything not to blurt out backstage “No, you don’t understand! This wasn’t what was planned!” 

Was this a bit of a healing moment in that way? “I don’t want people to come away and be like, oh, this is me making up for something that didn’t work out that well,” Tait said in Florence. “It is really about trying to communicate and encouraging people to communicate the challenges that we face and how difficult it is, especially with the time constraints. We need to build opportunities to redo, to innovate, and we need to have patience. Because the great product – you’re not gonna fart it out overnight. You have to really put your back into it. And it’s great because Pitti were just like, absolutely, let’s do it, that’s what you are, that’s what you need to do.”  

Alongside the seven products, Tait showed a film of himself in conversation with the women who are important to him and his work: fashion critic Cathy Horyn, stylist Beth Fenton and architect Mehrnoosh Khadivi, on topics relating to the installation. Khadivi also designed the installation’s mirror-led set, and her conversation with Tait centred on the contrast between architecture and fashion in terms of time frames. “Time is the biggest luxury in the world. Handbags are not. The less time you have to do something, the harder,” Khadivi noted at the event. 

“We need to build opportunities to redo, to innovate, and we need to have patience. Because the great product – you’re not gonna fart it out overnight” – Thomas Tait

Outside in the gardens, several people were drawing parallels to Susie Lau’s recent piece on Craig Green for Dazed, in which she talked about how we need to allow young designers the space to grow slowly and set up their DNA. “Does there need to be a change of culture in the industry, where instead of rashly propping up the new for the sake of newness we should learn to appreciate the people that will stand the test of time?”, Lau asked in her piece, and it really resonated here. 

Tait was asking us to think about the worth and longevity of an idea and a product, about allowing yourself the time to perfect something and explore it further rather than relentless new, new, new. Because for all its hard-hitting modernity and experimental nerve, there is a timelessness to his work and a conversation that always flows seamlessly from one collection to the next. As he says of his design process in his Pitti film: “I want it to never end,” a sentiment that was echoed in the mirror theme – a kind of infinity space, as he described it. 

“This has built a window of opportunity to continue. I know I’m starting with something that works perfectly and that I’m really happy with visually and I want to see how far I can continue pushing that,” Tait said, adding that the project had also given many of the Italian factory owners and directors a bit of a push. “Somewhere in our communication, you saw that they had a little bit of a twinkle in their eye. Like, alright, dude, I know what you’re trying to do. Let’s fucking do it.” 

Looking at his seven pieces, it all looked pretty perfect already. “Well, in my typical way I am looking around and kind of seeing all the problems, but a couple more of these,” Tait said with a grin, pointing to his drink, “Yeah, everything looks good!” 

Watch Thomas Tait in conversation with legendary journalist Cathy Horyn, stylist Beth Fenton and architect Mehrnoosh Khadivi below: