Words Elspeth Taylor
The Masters: Tom Guy
It’s the 1950s. An aristocrat walks through her stately home and out into the gardens. She wears a tulle ball gown, light as air, but underneath there is tucked a plain white cotton vest to keep out the cold. She sits down in the dirt and starts pulling weeds, oblivious to the smudges of soil clinging to her dress’ intricate embroidery. If she lived today, this woman would be wearing Tom Guy.
“Some of it’s very shit and some of it’s very lovely,” says Tom of his hometown in Buckinghamshire. We are looking at images of his beautiful, feminine collection whilst Tom sits, simply dressed in jeans, a t-shirt and a cap pulled down low over his face, perhaps to distract from the hangover he is nursing. This dichotomy of beauty and the commonplace is something that he touches on regularly when talking about his lauded MA graduate collection.
At first, Tom was not going to continue his studies after he graduated from his BA in Westminster in 2013. Instead, he set up his own label: “I wasn’t ready” he grins with a cheeky smile, “When you’re still learning, you can really do that and try to run a business. I realised it would be really good to do an MA, to enable me to take risks.”
Two years after he graduated from Westminster, Tom started the first year of his MA at Central Saint Martins, saying of the dual year structure: “the first year is really good because you get all of the crap out that you really need to. It enabled me to realise what I like to do.” In the blissful reprieve of the summer holiday between first and second year, Tom was able to take stock of all he had learned from his BA, his label, his time interning for the likes of Erdem and Marios Shwab, and explore what it was he wanted to execute in his graduate collection.
“I was researching mainly couture, and people who wear couture,” Tom says of his decision to create eveningwear gowns inspired by classic designs of the 1950s. His creations are no tired throwbacks to an age of nostalgia but imbued with something far more modern and witty. “What I am really interested in is the really over the top against the really really normal. I was looking at couture, and then vests and t-shirts and really simple trousers.” He uses these garments as the building blocks of his looks; tulle skirting is suspended from simple sheer vests to make a dress, while loose, straight trousers fall beneath the hem.
The jumpsuits on which his dresses are mounted are innovative, but also practical: “I thought ‘SHIT’, I have got all these gowns in organza, what is she going to wear underneath? Pants?” He laughs at the thought but came up with something much better than plain old knickers. “I remembered I had this idea from the beginning that I wanted to do trousers in boots. So I thought, let’s take this one step further and attach them to a corseted body.” He makes Balenciaga’s spandex boot trousers look easy to wear. He continues “it’s not obvious, but almost all of them are just one piece. The whole thing is attached. The dress is on top of the jumpsuit and the whole thing is connected at the waist inside. And the shoes. It’s almost like a joke because you can’t style it.”
Tom is fond of the so-called jokes in his collection; he dubs fabric his “funny secret.” Unless made from delicate tulle, his gowns look like they are expensive organdie. Step a little closer and you’ll see that it’s actually spray-painted organza. The quality of the fabric is however contrasted with the amount of time Tom invested in creating it: “I spent four days spraying this fabric, in the cold, in a barn on a farm in the middle of Buckinghamshire,” again demonstrating his love of contrasting luxury and the mundane. “I try to treat everything I am using like it’s the most expensive fabric, when actually it was £1 from Woolcrest and I sprayed it with spray paint from Cass Art.” It’s clear that Tom revels in the labour intensive and bespoke approach to his designs. This manifests further in the hand embroideries that litter his sherbet-coloured gowns.
The story behind his whimsically sewn cats, birds, faces and signatures is tinged with sadness. In the summer before the final year of his MA, Tom lost his grandmother. “We cleared out her house, and I went through all her stuff because she used to sew a lot,” revealing that – perhaps – his talent is in his blood. “All the embroideries I did on my dresses were ones I’d found of hers. I scanned them in and redrew them in my own hand.” The images he chose to embroider are all childlike, taken from patterns meant for his father’s clothes in his youth, rather than the more classical lingerie patterns of flowers that his grandmother also had. The wonderful juxtaposition of couture and witty embroidery can’t be better explained than by Tom himself: “It made me chuckle a bit.”
Tom’s collection was brilliantly received at London Fashion Week and hailed for bringing eveningwear back to the public’s attention. But what is next for him? With his interest in couture and bespoke techniques, it’s no surprise that he answers: “Until I can tick off a historical couture house from my tick list, for my own archive of knowledge, it’s not enough. Until I have Dior on my CV it’s not enough.” And what follows the completion of this tick list? “What I want to do in the future long term is…I want a brand,” he says frankly before grinning and adding “I would like a brand. My mum would tell me off for saying want.” This statement truly encapsulates Tom: he’s ambitious, but never to the detriment of being a really lovely guy. Hopefully one day some unhinged aristocrat will be wearing a Tom Guy original.
Images courtesy of Tom Guy