Thomas Tait is a warm man, but as a designer he constructs a chilly veneer. His clothes are always somehow awkward, fetishy rather than sensual, discreet and difficult rather than punchy. So it’s strange and surprising then, that for S/S 16, he was talking of 'optimism'. But don’t worry this wasn’t all cheerful cocktail frocks or silly sequins and 'boho beauty' - fashion’s usually 'happy' wardrobe - but optimism through retro references. The sixties were indeed a time of optimism, of sunny carefree and excitement about technology, change and innovation. It’s apt then that Tait’s women became swinging sirens in A-line minis, patent and flares. The look was completed with thick black fake eye-lashes complete with a strange architectural line that circled in front of each lash line - beautiful, but strange, just like the collection. Indeed, almost every piece in the collection had been 'disrupted' somehow; slinky tops came with mesmerising glass balls that hung from chains down models’ backs, hypnotising viewers as they swayed and swung down the runway, while almost every garment came with odd cut outs and keyholes that referenced industrial design. You couldn’t help but think of Russel Wright coffee makers, Erik Nitsche books or, when surveying the mix of faded hues and oddly childish primaries, the colours in Herbert Bayer’s work. Some looks were offset with bondage hardware; apt - the Tait women is daring. She likes luxury, but could never, and would never, look conservative.
It’s telling that industrial design was on Tait’s mind - that form of design was all about the creation of products manufactured using the means and techniques of mass production. While the fabrications and finishes in this collection by no means felt mass or everyday - quilted silk jostled for space alongside antique calf leather and intricate crystal embellishments - you couldn’t help but think of the many observations that, post LVMH prize win in 2014, Tait’s collections have become more 'commercial'. Maybe accessible or relevant is a better word. Yes, this was full of great separates that could do well on the shop floor, but rather than catering to the lowest common denominator, it seems like Tait is merely trying to make great design available to more people by pulling in more fans and supporters. Tait’s collections have always had a visual appeal and a fashion relevance, but previously it was sometimes tricky to think of his work as usable clothing. To draw on an icon of retro design fans, Ray Eames once said, 'What works good is better than what looks good. Because what works good lasts.' This looks good but will work outside of the runway too - that’s great design.