At 21, Thomas Tait was the youngest person ever to complete Central Saint Martins’ arduous MA program, the same age as Yves Saint Laurent when he became the head of Dior in 1957. Naming the suburban Montrealer from LaSalle College’s fashion program in the same sentence as Saint Laurent might seem audacious, but as critics and got-to-have-it-firsters explode with praise for Tait’s beguiling futurism, it’s hard to quell the giddy sense that we’re witnessing a legend in the making.
“I had barely read a Vogue in my life when I joined Saint Martins,” he says of the childhood fashion void from which his singular voice sprang. “I felt more confident speaking about my own life and doing things the way I envisioned them.” He has no stories about plumbing the riches of his mother’s closet. “My mom still doesn’t know who Anna Wintour is,” he laughs. Instead, his designs come from personal experience and instinct. “I have a visual and emotional moment in my head,” Tait says in an effort to explain his idiosyncratic inspirations. “If a friend is having a baby, everywhere I go I notice pregnant women—it’s things that are nagging at me. For instance, I don’t necessarily love yellow but for some reason that yellow just keeps showing up and then after a while I realize, wow, I’m really attached to this and it feels good.”
Tait became enamoured of impeccable construction at LaSalle, but longed for more. “I noticed that a lot of designers doing interesting work had gone through Saint Martins—Henry Holland and Gareth Pugh,” he says. But after he got in, “it was really horrifying, to be honest.” On top of moving far from home, Tait was the winner of the inaugural Dorchester Collection Fashion Prize; its £25,000 purse, he says, was “a lot of pressure.”
His response was to focus on constructing “in depth.” Tait’s clothes are hard to understand on the online runway. Yet it’s these indefinable codes that have earned him his own tag: Taitism. The austere layers of his latest collection—shown in a strobe-lit parking garage—pair high-tech gauze sweatpants with squared-off neoprene jackets or silky anoraks over turtlenecks and jogging pants, all made in fabrics that you have to wear to believe. “It’s a completely different colour and fabric from last season, but pay attention and there are certain ways I’ve gone about constructing a garment—a general feeling you get. Design-wise it’s never about putting out a clear message, but trying to communicate emotionally,” he says. “[People ask],‘What’s your inspiration?’ ‘Who’s your muse?’ But I don’t have any of those things, I’m just me. And now they say, ‘Of course, Thomas, this makes sense. We get it.’” And we do.
“The first sunglasses I did were meant to look like sad eyes,” says Tait of the pioneering shades he did for spring 2012. This season’s lopsided lookers (above) are also strikingly emotive. “I want the sunglasses to depict an expression. Sunglasses are not necessarily a serious element for me—accessories bring happiness and humour to what I’m doing.”