There is no one quite like Tommy Ton. The Jak and Jil photog's rise from blogger to fashion insider has become the stuff of legend, from parlaying his street style photos into campaign bookings, to being featured in the pages of Vogue Paris, Tommy is easily one of the net's biggest fashion success stories. Everyone knows his pictures, but how much do you know about the man behind the scenes? Christopher Michael sits down with the engaging Mr. Ton for a discussion of his past, his future and the moment that made him live for fashion.
One Interview by Christopher Michael / One Management
All photos courtesy of Tommy Ton
Christopher Michael: Let's back track and be generic and start from the beginning, how did it all begin? And don't be shy to elaborate...
Tommy Ton: All of this? Well basically, I've had an interest since I was 13, I find it just happened by accident. When I was taping episodes of fashion television for my sister, and I saw this Gucci collection in '97 that Tom Ford did and was like, I wanna do that. It was just his way of being in charge and being so eloquent and the way he spoke about fashion; I fell in love and from there I just became obsessed. I'd ride my bike to the library and just rip out pages and keep everything. I was also very much into art but it was just a great way to have a niche and focus on something, and I wanted to be a designer. In high school I thought if I wanted to be a designer I should work for a designer. So I did that when I was 15 and then suddenly I was more interested in the business side of it, which is when I started working for Holt Renfrew (The Barney's/Bergdorf's of Canada). From 2002-2005 I worked my way up to the buyers office at which point I realized it wasn't the side of fashion I wanted to be on. That's when I realized I was more into the creative aspect of it, I just didn't know which part of it yet. This is also when web-magazines started popping up and I just thought 'Whoa, I should just start creating a web magazine and maybe I'll buy a camera and teach myself how to use it. So that's what I did and just started photographing people on the street and at parties in Toronto and after awhile it got boring. I mean it's just not really common that you'll see a pair of designer shoes there; you have to look for it and if you do find it, it's probably just on some rich woman and you know, that's not very interesting. I ended up buying myself a ticket to London and to Paris in February 2007 and just became instantly addicted. It was like everything you've ever dreamed of as a fashion enthusiast, as a teenager, and after that I just started going every season. At the time I was shooting, you know how Scott did (The Sartorialist), in that really vertical fashion and it felt really hard because there was more competition building every season. Then in September 2008 I gave up and I was like, you know what I'm just going to start snapping without having to ask people because, it's hard to get the perfect shot... So I was clicking away like a documentary photographer and that's how it all accidentally happened..
"I saw this Gucci collection in '97 that Tom Ford did and was like, I wanna do that. It was just his way of being in charge and being so eloquent and the way he spoke about fashion; I fell in love and from there I just became obsessed."
RAVEN (Olivier Theyskens)
CM: And that's when things started happening with style.com and magazines, etc.?
Well about two months later, I got an email from Lane Crawford and they were like 'You know, we really like your point of view and we'd love you to shoot our look book' so I said yes! That was a huge relief. I was just like 'Wow, I can't believe someone thinks my photos are worthy of their campaign!' We flew to Paris in January of 2009 and we shot this sort of mock fashion campaign... that was the first big break. From there, it slowly progressed. I started getting requests from magazines like the New York Times, international additions of ELLE Magazine; they started requesting my photos and then September 2009, on the first day of New York Fashion Week, I got called in to Condenast by style.com and asked to replace Scott as their photographer. A lot of people think that he was let go, but he left; he had established his brand and had his moment with it at that point, and obviously I said yes because this was a platform to put me on an international scale. From there it went well because style.com was looking for someone who had a fashion point of view as opposed to someone who was more focused on style. They saw I was more fixated on shoes or the details of something, they felt like I documented the shows as if you were there yourself.
CM: How did you come up with the name JAKANDJIL?
TT: Oh well yeah ...that.. .I wanted something that meant, you know, Guy and Girl and this was back in 2005 and I thought, "Oh Jack and Jill is kind of like a 'guy and girl'," and the spelling was already taken so I just changed the spelling and that was it. I had the name. But I've recently asked myself, why do I keep going on with that name; it's catchy and all but it's tacky. What's good is that I've been able to establish myself as a brand and there is also Jak and Jil the blog. I guess Tommy Ton now stands for something and people who now hire me for jobs want to buy into that brand and the association. I get some people complaining that I'm focusing too much on style.com and not enough on Jak and Jil but it's like, this is a job and I have to, this is what pays my bills... Well, I don't pay rent but whatever, it pays for my shopping bills... (laughs)
"I got an email from Lane Crawford and they were like 'You know, we really like your point of view and we'd love you to shoot our look book' so I said yes! That was a huge relief. I was just like 'Wow, I can't believe someone thinks my photos are worthy of their campaign!'"
CM: (laughs) Love that, 'it pays for my shopping bills' ...oh the beautiful life...How did the American Vogue come up? And Self Service? And all of these editorial appearances?
TT: Last September, that was when Dolce and Gabbana put me, Scott, Garance and Bryanboy in the front row; I think that really signified the influence of new media. I wouldn't say it was a new dawn that stated that bloggers are going to be in the front row forever moving forward, but that we do have a voice. It just means that anyone anywhere can be influential or just have a point of view that's interesting; it doesn't matter how old you are or what country you live in, but if you have something to say you can easily say it now and that's totally new. Anna Dello Russo was the one to bring it up to Dolce and Gabbana stating that 'Bloggers are the new media and you should put them in the front row' and make a statement. After that, I went to Paris and people were actually inviting me, whereas I'd never get responses before. So for someone who stood outside of shows for years before that was just icing on the cake and more than I had ever hoped for. Now, being acknowledged and getting e-mails every day from you know KCD, or whoever, asking me to come to their events... I'm just like, in shock.
CM: With you now working for Style.com, are all of your show invites and such handled for you or are you still doing that all on your own?
TT: It's all on my own yeah. If I want the help I'll ask for it but no, that job still has me very independent. I don't have a driver, I still take the train and the bus and I walk, which I prefer. I'm just more hands on and the moment I start hitching rides I'll start missing those moments that happen after a show, that's something I learned, is that you just have to be patient and keep your eyes open because you never know what you are going to see.
CM: Are we going to see a news letter 'NOW REPRESENTING' anytime soon?
TT: Yes, actually quite soon! I've just signed with The Collective Shift. I was waiting for this moment; I didn't want to fish for an agent, I wanted it to happen organically, and I wanted someone to be interested in me and I wanted to be interested in them, I couldn't have asked for better representation. Everything just fell into place. James introducing me to Trunk Archive and then Trunk introducing me to The Collective Shift etc..
"Last September, that was when Dolce and Gabanna put me, Scott, Garance and Bryanboy in the front row; I think that really signified the influence of new media."
CM: How did the French Vogue with Tavi come about? How did you get commissioned to do that?
TT: They just emailed me and, well, first of all- The one thing I ever wanted in the short period I've been playing with the medium of photography is to do anything for Vogue Paris, even if it was only one photo I could have said 'this is it, I'm done, this is all I need to do'. So they e-mailed me and asked if I'd like to shoot these pages for them and it just happened to be Tavi. They were like 'You need to go to Chicago'...Obviously, I agreed and went to Chicago and it's funny because she's just like me- a kid from suburbia who loves fashion and shares her passion through her blog.
CM: For your inside looks section, who would be your dream subject?
TT: Well it's already come true, Anna Dello Russo! She came up to me the last day of New York Fashion week and invited me to her apartment to see her archives and I was like 'YES YES YES YES YES!' After Milan fashion week finished, I had an extra day so I went over there and she showed me around her apartments. She has two- one just for her clothes and one, well, also for her clothes but also where she lives. One is kept at 15 degrees for the clothes to be kept at a certain temperature. She's very well organized and obviously obsessed with fashion. I think the reason why she gave me that privilege is, she said to me "I respect your passion for fashion and your visual language of it." She said dressing for the bloggers now is like a second career for her. There is a list that I'd like to shoot but I also have to be careful because doing this thing that I'm doing borders on The Selby who I respect so much but I focus more on the clothes rather than the apartment, etc.
The industry is changing. Before, you had to intern and make your way up to the top and now within a season I've gone from not being invited to being invited and even sitting in front row. You know, even if tomorrow they put me back in the last row I'm ok with that, just the fact that I get to go makes me happy...
"The industry is changing. Before, you had to intern and make your way up to the top and now within a season I've gone from not being invited to being invited and even sitting in front row"