Australian expats Ramon Martin and Ryan Lobo, who comprise the design duo Tome, launched four years ago. Aside from the interesting fact that each season they jointly choose iconic women as a source of inspiration to design part of their collections – a muse to catalyze their vision if you will – it seems also important to note that one of their singular strengths lies in their unusual combination of skills.
Before forming Tome, Lobo gained experience as a brand consultant, luxury buyer, and stylist, while Martin developed a unique sense of design while working with the likes of Derek Lam and Jean Paul Gaultier (and his Haute Couture Atelier). A fortunate blend of talents indeed that not only provides an interesting story for introductions like this one, but has evidently resulted in savvy branding and an elevated contemporary aesthetic, which was obviously noticed by the powers that be when they were chosen as finalists for the prestigious CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund.
We gladly caught up with the duo – who generously gave us some of their time ahead of their NYFW show – to talk about social media, collaborating with Swarovski and this week’s “see now, buy now” controversy.
NOWFASHION: How important is social media in your design and concept process?
Ramon Martin & Ryan Lobo: We’re always inspired by female artists and traditionally have happened upon their work in shows, both here in NYC and overseas. Social media really breaks down those boundaries of place and makes art totally accessible anywhere which is a really exciting concept to us. We’re absolutely open to inspiration wherever it may strike, in a gallery on 22nd Street or in a Snapchat story posted by one of our friends.
NF: As an extension of the previous question, how important is it for your collections to be timeless (as they certainly feel that way)?
RM & RL: There is always continuity from season to season. We feel as though we’re giving women something they’ll make their own and reinvent for different seasons or occasions.
NF: In your collaborative AW16 collection with Swarovski, one can spot embellishments and objects during your runways that don’t necessarily seem to be directly connected with the collection, and yet very much extend it – crowns, third eyes (placed on the heart), structured cuffs. Is there a symbol or an idea behind that beyond the aesthetic?
RM & RL: The crystals are the finishing touches on our pieces. The evil eye is actually worn as a talisman to ward off bad things so placing them on the back of crowns and garments was poetic for us.
NF: Why did you choose to collaborate with Swarovski, and in what way do you feel it complimented or enhanced your designs?
RM & RL: This is our third season as a part of the Swarovski Collective, and it’s an exciting challenge for us to incorporate crystal. It’s easy to be entranced by things that shine and sparkle, and to fall into a cliché about how to apply such things. We like to innovate but stay true to our aesthetic. We consciously choose humble fabrics in our Swarovski designs, which elevates these elements.
NF: I’m sure you’ve heard about a lot of designers showing see now, buy now collections. What are your thoughts on this?
RM & RL: We actually showed our first in-season collection earlier in the year at Australian Fashion Week. We went into it without expectations but were blown away by how immediate the connection was with our customer and the excitement we were able to create by delivering those pieces straight to our woman.
NF: What are some of the challenges of working as a duo?
RM & RL: We’ve been friends for nearly 15 years and have worked hand in hand at TOME now for five. It’s almost symbiotic at this point so we know which bases each of us have covered without having to constantly regroup. It actually allows us to be a lot more creative because, although we are working towards the same goals, there is a huge amount of autonomy and trust.
NF: With all the talk around the changing fashion week schedule and the democratization of fashion week (so consumers can also participate, not just press/bloggers), where does Tome stand on the current landscape of it all?
RM & RL: TOME was founded as a collection for every woman and cornerstone so that is being democratic and totally transparent in our process. We love the idea of being able to pass the pieces to the consumer directly and ultimately this gives our woman the ability to pick and choose what she loves without any sort of filters. We love it.
It also empowers the media and retailers to strengthen their creative point of view and what they feel their voices can add to the conversation. It’s certainly becoming a more collaborative and creative fashion marketplace.
NF: You’ve cited Georgia O’Keeffe, Barbara Kruger, Shirin Neshat, and various other prominent figures as Muses. Why use women as an inspiration for your collections (say versus a genre, an era, an artistic movement, etc)?
RM & RL: We design for a strong, formidable woman who knows who she is, so it’s only appropriate that those women are our inspiration. A lot of times those women themselves are from a genre, era, or tied to an artistic movement so it all comes full circle for artistic expression.
NF: What could be a single verb that you feel justly encapsulates this collection?
RM & RL: Movement.
NF: Music strikes me as being an important element of your runways (or even on the site), in the sense that it is unusually fitting both in mood and style – does music in fact play a key part when you design or show your collections, and how do you go about seeking and curating it?
RM & RL: When we send the collection off onto the runway, it’s certainly a sensory experience and hopefully not just visually. The artists whose work we’re inspired by are legendary for pushing audiences to consider things beyond the visual and music plays into our ability to evoke cultural or sometimes even political messages.
NF: Any particular Instagram accounts you enjoy perusing?
RM & RL: @WMagazine does a great job at boiling down fashion and culture into bite size pieces and they’re always sharing great photography, which is the ultimate luxury in fashion these days.
For something a little more narrative, @humansofny can be a really interesting worm hole to spend 15 minutes inside of. It’s a daily reminder of how diverse this city is and the kind of stories strangers carry with them every day.
NF: Who else would you like to collaborate with in the future?
RM & RL: Madonna, the singer not the virgin!