When Phoebe Philo took a break from the fashion world, some might say that chaos followed in her wake. There were outcries over a fallen “é” and a wiped Instagram page – and Philo’s departure was the final nail in the coffin for street style photographer Tommy Ton, who had spent years capturing her stylish followers. Jaded by the “inauthentic” style that he saw, Ton decided to put the camera down and pursue his life-long dream as a designer instead.
He found his calling at Deveaux, which exclusively offered menswear until Ton joined as its Creative Director and introduced a womenswear collection in 2018. The New York label’s modus operandi is updating classic pieces to create a modern uniform for its wearers.
“We tried to make sure that what we do is very grounded in reality,” explained Ton when asked about his design approach for Deveaux. “We want to contribute to a man or a woman’s wardrobe and make sure that they’re buying something that’s very well- made, refined and timeless.”
What Deveaux offers is at odds with fashion, which is traditionally obsessed with fantasy and fleeting ideals of beauty. Reality is not something to aspire to, but it is the key to knowing what women actually want to wear. In that regard, Ton has an edge over his contemporaries: he spent the last 14 years observing the real women of fashion through the lens of his camera, learning from them directly what they looked for in a garment.
“I find that a lot of designers put their work out into the world, but they don't really get to be there,” shared Ton. “Having spent so much time watching how people dress, I definitely keep that in mind when designing something because I want to make sure that I can envision someone wearing it, or that it has longevity. I like to make sure that my collections are life-proof.”
“Life-proof” is also how you can describe the designs of The Row and Daniel Lee’s Bottega Veneta. Other brands are starting to see the appeal of creating something lasting: this year, both Dior and Louis Vuitton have launched new lines for menswear staples, echoing Deveaux’s desire to create “an easy wardrobe”.
Sander Lak, who founded the New York-based label Sies Marjan, shares that sentiment. “A garment has to have a certain ease to it,” said the Dutch designer. “It can look very spectacular on the outside, but you zip yourself in and you’re done.”
As is often the case, Lak’s creations do look spectacular on the outside. Rich in textures, his signature slouchy blouses and dresses have earned him last year’s CFDA Emerging Talent Award, as well as fans in Beyoncé, Zoë Kravitz and Zoe Saldana. But even his boldest design is meant to be extremely wearable. “I don’t like when garments are worn in a way that’s restrictive. I try to make sure that what you're getting is really something that works on you.”
Like his use of colours and fabrics, Lak’s idea of the Sies Marjan woman is non-discriminatory. His runway shows and campaigns, which have featured a diverse range of models both young and old, are able to speak to “real” women. Deveaux adopted a similar approach, taking it one step further by casting people who aren’t models at all.
Neither of the two takes great pains to define what their ideal customer should look like in terms of race, age or sex; the only criterion is that they share the brand’s ethos. “We live in a time when people are so calculated and so forcefully trying to get something out there that works,” said Lak. “Sies Marjan is authentic because it comes from me and my team, and I think that really resonates with people. The brand has its own voice. It’s specific without being only for one kind of person.”
Both Sies Marjan and Deveaux give their customers the freedom to dictate their own style and wear the pieces however they want. In other words: keep it real. “I hope people wear my designs in their own way, not necessarily how it was styled in the show,” shared Lak. “I love it when people mix it up, even with other brands.”
”Our clothes more about letting you be the person that you want to be,” said Ton. “We just want to make clothes that make people feel good.”
First seen in the September 2019 issue of L'Officiel Singapore.