Thomas Tait with past and current season samples

LVMH Prize is in the air

A studio visit with past year's winner Thomas Tait

Portuguese design duo Marques’Almeida is the winner of this year’s LVMH prize. Becoming the industry’s most talked about event for young designers due to its high prize money, we decided to visit Thomas Tait one year after winning to see what it’s done for him.

Design duo Marques’Almeida has been announced as the winner of the second LVMH Prize for Young Talent. Parisian designer Simon Porte Jacquemus, whose designs evoke the sundrenched vistas of his hometown near Marseille, has been given a special Jury Prize, winning 150 000 Euros in capital and one year of advice by LVMH.

Paulo Almeida and Marta Marques, this years winners of the LVMH price
Paulo Almeida and Marta Marques, this year’s winners of the LVMH Prize for Young Talent

Graduating from the MA Fashion at Central Saint Martins in 2011, Paulo Almeida and Marta Marques first presented their collections within Lulu Kennedy’s Fashion East initiative. Since the Spring 2013 season, the duo has been on schedule for London Fashion Week, where their shows have garnered positive reviews and a keen following. On their website, Marques’Almeida explains their work to ‘subscribe to the Helmut Lang school of thought, where fashion is about attitude, not hemlines.’ Similar to the Austrian designer, Marques ‘ Almeida has continually reinterpreted classic fabrics, most of all denim. For Spring 2015, denim can be found in oversized, wide cuffed trousers, jackets fraying at hems and cuffs and finally coated in a shiny, iridescent finish. For Fall 2015, coarse and durable denim is manipulated to fall into complicated drapes, knotted and layered. Designs like these have found demand in the market, and Marques’Almeida is stocked by 80 stores worldwide.

Marques ' Almeida Fall 2015
Marques ‘ Almeida Fall 2015

While Paulo Almeida and Marta Marques might have missed the shortlist of the annual prize last year, the pair is now looking to use the prize money and industry guidance to grow their company, starting by adding to their small team, currently working from an East London studio. To coincide with the announcement, we take a look at the prize’s inaugural winner Thomas Tait, and how both prize fund and guidance have affected the designer’s company.

A visit to Cannon Street.

When, in June 2014, Delfine Arnault announced 26 years old, London based Thomas Tait as the winner of the first LVMH Prize, the Canadian designer had galvanized an industry jury that included Phoebe Philo, Raf Simons and Karl Lagerfeld among others, with a strikingly modern collection produced to the highest standards of quality and communicating his ‘passion and motivation’. Using both bold and delicate two-tone colours, contrasting with a deep, saturated black, Tait’s designs explored contrasts both in fabrics and garment construction. Following the wearer’s every move, a pair of loose cut, slightly cropped trousers was adorned with both pleated, near liquid fabric and precisely cut cloth swatches.

Thomas Tait in his Cannon Street studio
Thomas Tait in his Cannon Street studio

Complicated techniques, leading several judges to hush the word ‘Couture’, recalled Tait’s initial degree, gaining a technical diploma at the Collège LaSalle in Quebec, Montreal. Moving to London shortly after, Tait enrolled at Central Saint Martins, to graduate from the Louise Wilson taught MA Fashion in February 2010, setting the record as the youngest alumni to date. Showing his first on-schedule show during London Fashion Week for the Spring 2011 season, Tait’s work had been championed by several initiatives, including the much sought after British Fashion Council NewGen scheme in addition to the Dorchester Fashion Collection Prize, which saw Tait present his Fall 2011 designs at The New York Palace in Manhattan. As the winner of the LVMH Prize 2015, Thomas Tait was the first recipient of both a €300,000 prize fund and close mentorship by LVMH.

Past and current season samples from Fall 2012 to Spring 2015
Past and current season samples from Fall 2012 to Spring 2015

Thomas Tait’s studio takes up a light flooded corner office in a glass fronted, modern office block on Cannon Street. Located on the London tube map equidistant to both Westminster and Whitechapel, the area surrounding Cannon Street exists in its own vacuum. Peopled by employees of the financial industries. Tait and team moved to the new location just after the LVMH announcement. It was a change of studio space, for which plans had already been well underway, when the winner was announced in Paris.

Studio views
Studio views

The first collection shown straight after the announcement was Spring 2015, and the preparations for the intensely immersive spectacle must have already commenced. Inviting the audience to an abandoned building on The Strand, the stark grey of unvarnished concrete was challenged by a vivid installation, created by French artist Georges Rousse. Tait continued Rousse’s exploration of empty spaces and void volumes, with diaphanous fabrics, exaggerated cuts and graphic details. A see through, midnight blue top was worn tucked into a leather skirt constructed of yellow and blue leather squares, while a yellow checkerboard dress beautifully engulfed the wearer’s shoulders in large square sleeves.

Thomas Tait Spring 2015
Thomas Tait Spring 2015

In feel and atmosphere, the new address is far removed from the former studio in East London. ‘We are the only fashion company in the area’, its relentless focus on business and finance could prove inspirational at times. The space feels airy and bright, furnished with large cutting tables, rails bearing past and current collections, toiles and patterns. Spring 2015 shoes are carefully kept in plastic wrappers, their signature cutout heels still visible.

Finished samples and paper patterns
Finished samples and paper patterns

In choosing Tait, LVMH decided to invest in a young designer with a track record of experience in running an independently owned brand. The mentorship, which does not follow stringent guidelines, also exists to, in turn, understand the needs of a young brand, and the challenges faced in today’s marketplace. These challenges are often related to the physical production of a whole collection and meeting increasingly demanding order deadlines. Since winning the prize, guidance by LVMH has helped Tait to navigate a complicated demographic of manufactures.

Sample rail including a Spring 2013 blue and yellow top
Sample rail including a Spring 2013 blue and yellow top

The Fall 2015 collection

The Fall 2015 collection, presented in a disused car park on Marylebone Road, saw models navigating illuminated bridges, streams of light cutting through the dark setting. The collection featured sharp and expertly positioned pleats, and, most notable, an array of luxurious fabrics including glossy mink and patent leather.

Thomas Tait Fall 2015
Thomas Tait Fall 2015

Since winning the LVMH Prize, the brand has also been reassessing merchandising categories with a mentor, using ‘a fresh set of eyes’, one result being that the new collection expands certain product categories. The Fall 2015 collection offered several choices for outerwear, from cropped black coats fastened with oversized silver closures, to a striking yellow knee length version, designed with asymmetrical pleating.