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Thomas Tait SS16
Backstage at Thomas Tait SS16, crystals by SwarovskiPhotography Daisy Walker

Getting up close and personal with Thomas Tait

The designer tells us about his cosmic-inspired SS16 show – and why he made people sit almost uncomfortably close to the brightly-lit runway

Thomas Tait toys a lot with how we view and engage with fashion. Two seasons ago, he worked with artist Georges Rousse to create a show space that, thanks to an optical illusion, only made sense in its entirety once guests saw the runway images online. For AW15, he made us concentrate hard on his clothes by showing them in almost total darkness, forcing us to put down our phones and be in the moment. And at Pitti in June this year, he enhanced some of his core pieces with Italy’s top manufacturers, showing the original and the hyper-perfected piece side by side, which made you think about the insane pace of fashion and how there’s never any time to properly immerse yourself in something of value before we’re on to the next New Thing.

Yesterday, his SS16 collection took that conversation in an exciting new direction. Tait had bought a circle stencil on a trip to New York, and one circle led to another, multiplying into mesh-covered, graphically stitched openings, grommet-lined bondage kneeholes and round air vents placed tongue-in-cheek in crotch proximity. There was something crop circle mystery-ish about them – set off by a totem pole-like antique leather jumpsuit inspired by the collages of artist Louis Reith – but they also felt a bit like a solar system. Backstage, Tait spoke of “a tiny bit of a cosmic vibe”. Perhaps this was about navigating not just the universe, but each other, giving us a glimpse into the person underneath the clothes.

“I mean, any hole’s a goal, really,” Tait said with a smirk and a big laugh when asked about their meaning. “I think it’s nice because all the artworks are different, they’re all mixed up and then it just depends which one you pick up on. It means something different to the person sitting on the other side [of the runway], or the person on the other side of the street will pick up something else, and I kind of like that.” At the same time, he brought us up close and personal with the brightly lit, narrow runway to really appreciate what we were seeing. “Just kind of forcing people together, whether they like it or not! It was about manipulating that sort of intimacy and awkward closeness,” he reflected. “I like that thing of having to be physically close to something to get it.”

“Backstage, Tait spoke of “a tiny bit of a cosmic vibe”. Perhaps this was about navigating not just the universe, but each other, giving us a glimpse into the person underneath the clothes”

In that way, he was asking wider questions about intimacy and detachment, and while he said he wasn’t necessarily passing comment on the way we view things online or on social media, it did feel a little bit like the voyeuristic element of stalking people through their square Instagram windows, only here those windows were round instead. Similarly, his continually evolving opaque-transparent striped pieces gave you an impression of looking at the girls through blinds, Peeping Tom-style. And weaved into all of this was a beautiful new softness, in languid pyjama dressing and frilly silk blouses, contrasted with the perverse sexuality of his patent leathers.

There’s never a set of Cliffs Notes to go with Tait’s clothes, and this collection cemented his multi-layered narrative. He’s created a world for himself with recognisable, lust-worthy pieces but instead of painting himself into a corner he’s extending his house into something much larger, unlocking new rooms and themes along the way. Yesterday’s show felt like he was bringing his ideas together and reinforcing them, without in any way constricting his view.