As Tome turns five, the NYC duo hail the strong, soulful females who inspire their ‘Every Woman’ aesthetic

Tome celebrated five years in fashion with a SS17 show at New York Fashion Week that sizzled with prints, sparkles, ruffles and all-round good vibrations. As the sweet sounds of William DeVaughn’s Be Thankful For What You Got warmed the room, the first looks dazzled thanks to the monochrome harlequin diamonds and flamenco frills that danced across wrap dresses, unboned corset tops and high waisted pencil skirts. Twisted and off the shoulder tops were paired nonchalantly with wide silky trousers and long waistcoats as bold stripes and soft gingham checks leapt into view. Then came the sequins and metallic jacquards as the wrapping and discrete flashing of flesh continued to bring each elegant, easy silhouette to life. Injections of tomato red, silver lame and olive green on maxi skirts and kaftans kept the thrills and spills coming, as did geometric wovens and oodles of sultry flounce. What did we learn? Though you may not drive a great big Cadillac, Diamond in the back, Sunroof top, You can still stand tall…

“We didn’t hold back,” confides Ryan Lobo, one half the design duo with Ramon Martin, a few days after the show. He’s only just recovered from the after party hosted by Lady Miss Kier and Sandra Bernhard. “It was the most maximalist minimalist show we’ve ever done but we still retained our signatures – the shirts, the karate pants, the unstructured trench coats. These are clothes our female friends tell us they can look good and feel good in. They love getting dressed up without being strapped in.”

The collection also acted as homage to all the formidable women whose lives and work have influenced their strong, modern aesthetic since starting out. And it’s one hell of a list. First and foremost for this season were the Malian beauties who posed for Seydou Keïta and Malick Sidibé’s eloquent lenses. “Their images are always on our moodboards. African studio photography strikes a cord with us, partly because our work is synonymous with black and white, which this time drew us to prints and optical art, which brought us to Bridget Riley and her use of vibrant colours.”

The styling of the show was influenced by Jackie Nickerson’s Farm, a landmark series of portraits shot across southern Africa of people who work the land. “It’s a book I’ve been obsessed with since it came out in 2002,” says Lobo. “We also looked to Pina Bausch for our gutted dresses, to Louise Bourgeois for our palette of pinks and reds, to Georgia O’Keeffe for the shirt dresses and to Shirin Neshat for the sweetness and covered up nature of the collection. Then there’s always love for Sade, Annie Lennox, Grace Jones, Zadie Smith, Kara Walker and Madonna.”

“We don’t believe the tokenism of putting one brown girl and one Asian girl in a show is enough.
That’s not the world we live in. We must
reflect our consumer and be real”

A quote from Germaine Greer, featured on Sinead O’Connor’s album Universal Mother, resonated so much it appeared on the show notes: ‘I do think that women could make politics irrelevant; by a kind of spontaneous cooperative action the like of which we have never seen; which is so far from people’s ideas of state structure or viable social structure that it seems to them like total anarchy - when what it really is, is very subtle forms of interrelation that do not follow some hierarchal pattern which is fundamentally patriarchal. The opposite to patriarchy is not matriarchy but fraternity, yet I think it’s women who are going to have to break this spiral of power and find the trick of cooperation.’

“I first heard this when I was 14 or 15 and it touched me. Listening to that album again with the US election and the prospect of the first female president looming, it felt like a timely and powerful message. There’s something in the air,” muses Lobo. Music is always central to Tome’s creative process. Martin creates a seasonal soundtrack that they listen to every day in the studio and there’s one artist that is never, ever missing. “Nina Simone! There has not and never will be anyone like her. She created a style of music, of fashion, and possessed a completely unconventional beauty. Her songs move us to tears all the time. It’s impossible to fall out of love with her. She’d come back from the grave and shoot us if we even dared.”

The high priestess of soul’s 1967 smash I’m Going Back Home had Tome’s SS17 guests shaking their shoulders to its incessant tambourines and hand claps as their roll call of diverse beauties paced the catwalk. A hallmark of every Tome show is its inclusive casting, which this time around included Tanzanian stalwart Herieth Paul, 64-year-old actress Jacqueline O’Shaughnessy, plus size model Marquita Pring and post gender poster person Stav Strashko. “We don’t believe the tokenism of putting one brown girl and one Asian girl in a show is enough. That’s not the world we live in. We must reflect our consumer and be real. Every lady we send down the runway is super special. They have personalities and with them we hope to address the inequality that exists in the fashion industry. You have to keep on your game in order to represent and be able to see beauty everywhere.”

The level of maturity in Tome’s ethos and designs comes from the fact that these two go way back. Lobo’s family are from India but he grew up in Australia where he met Martin while both were studying at Sydney University of Technology in 1997. Drawn together through a mutual passion for Helmut Lang, Rei Kawakubo and Azzedine Alaïa (and Benny Hill, but that’s another story), Martin went on to work as a designer for the likes of Alberta Ferretti, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Derek Lam in Europe and the US while Lobo worked as a stylist, buyer and consultant back home. Over a decade later the time felt right to join forces in New York. Success was swift as global stockists such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Harvey Nichols and Moda Operandi testify. They won the Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation 2013 award and were finalists for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund in the same year. They can also count Tilda Swinton, Solange Knowles, Isabella Rossellini and Julianne Moore as fans. So what’s their secret? “We don’t fight. It’s very civilised. We laugh a lot and we trust each other. It’s a very fluid working relationship and everything we do has to be mutually felt.”

When I ask both what their proudest moment so far is, their answer is unanimous – the White Shirt Project. Their philanthropic collaboration with Freedom For All, a foundation that fights human trafficking and modern day slavery, sees Tome release a new style of white shirt every few months with all profits going to the cause. “Besides the fact that we make these donations, it raising consciousness on the issue too,” says Lobo, with Martin adding: “So many iconic women have worn these shirts, the latest of which was Lauren Hutton. She was one of our early muses so now we’ve come full circle.” Head to Net-A-Porter to snap up the fifth edition in November.
Going forward they’re focussing on making the brand more sustainable. SS17 included textiles from women’s collectives in India under the umbrella of Piece & Co and they’re also using more recycled yarns, upcycled denim and organic cotton. “It’s all part of our Every Woman philosophy – whether that’s who is making the clothes, wearing them or inspiring them,” says Lobo. “We still have a lot of work to do.”


Words Helen Jennings
Film and photography Davey James Clarke

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