Tommy Ton, the man who made his name with street style photography, takes on the new challenge of fashion design for New York-based luxury label, Deveaux.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Tommy Ton, the man who made his name with street style photography, takes on the new challenge of fashion design for New York-based luxury label, Deveaux.

Models in looks from the Deveaux fall/winter 2019 show in New York. 

Photographer, blogger, buyer, now designer. Tommy Ton, 35, has worn many different hats in his career but the common thread through it all has always been fashion. The Canadian still remembers the moment vividly, when his sister asked him as a 13-year-old to record a show which featured Tom Ford. Ford didn’t just impress the teenager, he sparked off a life-defining interest in fashion. “I was seduced by him because he spoke so passionately about it, I just knew at that moment, that this was a world that I wanted to be a part of,” explained Ton. 

By the age of 15, Ton was interning with local fashion designer Wayne Clark. This in turn led to a job within the women’s accessory department of Holt Renfrew, a high-end Canadian department store, before he was promoted to the buying department. 

In 2005, Ton launched Jak & Jil, a fashion blog that ultimately propelled his photography career. “I wanted to have a lifestyle website where I could feature not just market pages, but also photos of people and what they were wearing, ” he explained. From Canada, Ton would go on to photograph stylish show-goers across the globe and build a name for himself as one of the world’s leading street style photographers, even shooting editorial campaigns and brand advertisements for DKNY and Lane Crawford.

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Tommy Ton at the Net-a-Porter fall/winter 2019 trend presentation in Hong Kong

Although Ton enjoyed his work behind the camera, he never forgot his childhood dream of fashion design, which is what ultimately led him to take on the role of Creative Director at Deveaux, which was originally formed as a menswear label by Matthew Breen and Andrea Tsao. “We’ve been friends for many years and I would often give them advice. They had aspirations to do women’s and I felt they could do that with some help. So I volunteered myself as their creative director as I felt the timing was right for me. I thought it was a nice way to transition to something different.”

Ton, who led the conception of Deveaux’s first women’s collection for spring 2019 credits his time behind the lens for equipping him with knowledge of what is being worn on the streets and helping him see the relationship between the runway and the consumer. “I definitely see shooting as demographic research, being able to understand how men and women dress in a certain way. Something I keep very much in mind is whether or not someone’s going to want to wear what I design. If I put it out there, who do I envision wearing it? The bottom line is: Does this make sense in someone’s wardrobe?” 

Of course, making the transition without any prior training was always going to be a difficult one for Ton. “I think for me to go from being a photographer to being a designer, was a bit of a shock, but I’ve been very lucky that people have been supportive of me.” 

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For his New York Fashion Week debut during the fall/winter 2019 shows, Ton showcased a collection that saw an array of relaxed, genderless-layered clothing with an assortment of flowing coats in earthy tones to reflect his vision for the urban New Yorker. Forgoing the traditional catwalk in favour of a new presentation style, Ton’s multigenerational models walked through the space interacting—walking arm in arm, holding hands and even hugging. It was the perfect concept for Deveaux, which has an aesthetic described as “beautiful everyday pieces with a gestural, loose fit.”

So what’s next for Ton? He wants to focus on Deveaux and ensure he expands the brand in the right way and at a steady pace. He’s also working on a new documentary and a new book. 

If there’s one thing we can learn from this Jack of all trades, it’s that you should never be afraid to look at life through different lenses.