INTRO BY NICKY SUMMER: ’Wedding Of The Year’ – the celebration of Sofia Richie and Elliott Grainge at Hotel du Cap Eden Roc back in Spring of this year – may actually go down in history as ‘Wedding Of The Decade’, so beautifully was it staged… everything about the occasion was perfection – from the location and the phenomenal floral decor through to what the principals in the wedding party wore. Sofia was dressed in Chanel and her father, Lionel Richie, styled by Dave Thomas, looked impeccable in Saint Laurent. The second momentous highlight of the social calendar this year was the coronation of HRH King Charles III. As Global Ambassador and Chairman of the Global Ambassador Group for The Prince’s Trust, Lionel Richie had a heightened role in all aspects of the occasion and was then too dressed by Dave Thomas. Here we meet Dave at his gorgeous home in Palm Springs and discuss his journey from protégée of the Princes Trust to one of Hollywood’s most highly respected stylists:

NS: “Dave, it’s a long time since we first met at a casual, intimate dinner with George Michael many moons ago! It’s been fascinating to watch your journey since then and I’m so impressed by what you’ve achieved over the years. When you think back to when you first started out in fashion, what was it that inspired you and how did you get your first break?”

DT: “I didn’t start out hoping to be a stylist, I wasn’t aware there was any such career back then. I’d left school at age 16 and – at the advice of my teachers – I became a plumbing apprentice because I wasn’t considered ‘university material’. I didn’t really enjoy my time working on a building site and during my tea breaks and free time I’d devour the gossip pages of the newspapers and I started yearning for a life in London. Eventually I packed a backpack and ran away, with my savings of £30, to follow my dreams and with the ambition to meet Boy George. I quickly got a job in the newly opened Tower Records on Picadilly Circus and later at the renowned fashion store Hyper Hyper, the hub of 80’s fashion and style. After a year in London at the age of 20 I moved to NY where I had to work three jobs just to stay ahead. In the mornings, I worked in the cafe at The Pineapple Dance Studio, afternoons were spent sweeping up hair at a hair salon on Thompson Street and I was also singing backing vocals in a band. At that time, I was sharing a room in a two bedroom apartment – four of us and only two beds; I was really struggling to keep afloat. Then, one day two girls came into the salon and asked me to style them; I replied “I don’t cut hair, I just sweep it up”; “No, style our clothes, we’re in a band”, they said, “We love your look”. That was the first time I had heard of styling and something clicked for me; I realised that you couldn’t just ‘be fabulous’, you actually had to do something so I decided that I’d be a Fashion Stylist…”

DT: ”I flew back to England and stayed at my parents home in Gloucestershire to figure out how I could get into that career; I soon discovered I wasn’t qualified to get into college to study fashion and I was also turned down by the banks when I tried to get a loan to start my new styling business. Eventually I heard about The Prince’s Trust, the charity set up by HM King Charles to help disadvantaged young people. I applied for, and received, a grant to start my  business; the year was 1988 and I was just 22 years old. Armed with my portfolio, paid for in part by my grant, I moved back to London and began work as a styling assistant, working in a cafe at the weekends, washing up, to supplement my income. Now, years later, I’m a proud Ambassador of The Prince’s Trust!”

ABOVE: Judy Blame; Annie Leibovitz

NS: “Often we think back at the people who were there for us at the beginning of our careers – I can remember the names and faces of all of those who helped me (and those who didn’t!); who were your biggest proponents back then?”

DT: “Well, all the stylists I assisted at the beginning were very generous with their knowledge and contacts, and they were three of the best. My first assistant job was for legendary stylist and jewellery designer Judy Blame; he was styling Boy George at that time and when he became too busy I replaced him and became George’s stylist. Through Judy I met the fashion icon Isabella Blow and started assisting her at British Vogue. I interned for the fashion luminary Michael Roberts at Tatler Magazine and later we became great friends and collaborators when he was working as a photographer. In 2007, when he was Fashion Director of Vanity Fair and I was living in LA he had me style the ‘Hollywood Issue’ photographed by Annie Lebovitz. In 1990, two years after receiving the grant from the Prince’s Trust, at the age of 24, I became the youngest fashion editor in the world at the time, for newly launched ‘British Esquire’; the ‘queen’ of fashion PR, Lynne Franks, had recommended me for the position and I didn’t even have to interview. When I was at Esquire I met Sir Hardy Amies, the Saville Row couturier and dressmaker to the Queen. Like me, he was from ‘the wrong side of the tracks’ (his words) and he took me under his wing. We would spend evenings at his apartment in Belgravia where the butler would serve us dinner and he would school me in how to eat in a fancy restaurant, the importance of grooming and the history of the suit….”

ABOVE: Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow; Boy George styled by Dave Thomas

NS: “That’s an incredible start to your career… almost like your success in the business was pre-destined. I’m sure the timing helped as all those you’ve just mentioned were absolutely key to the 80’s fashion movement. Before Boy George, did you have any celebrity clients that were lesser known at that time?”

ABOVE: Lisa Stansfield; an ad for Dave’s collection

DT: “My very first client was singer Lisa Stansfield in 1989, Judy Blame had been asked to style her but wasn’t interested and suggested me instead. It was for a music video for her second single ‘All Around The World’ from her debut album ‘AFFECTION’. The song became a worldwide hit and her androgynous style – a John Richmond tailored jacket, ‘Baker Boy’ hat and chunky men’s shoes was much acclaimed. We’re the same age and were both at the start of our careers ie young and broke. I remember lending her money for the subway; Lisa was, and remains, very down to earth. to quote her “That f***ing jacket started both our careers!”

NS: “Yes! Such a memorable image… Moving forward a few years, how did the Lionel Richie connection happen?”

DT: “In 2002 Lionel Richie was in London filming a video for his song ‘Don’t Stop the Music’ and looking for a local stylist; the legendary promoter Barrie Marshall recommended me for the gig. Lionel said to me “If you keep on going the way you’re going, you’re going to be somebody amazing.” 

NS: “You really can’t get a better endorsement than that because Lionel Richie knows fashion and the music business inside and out! What amazing motivation for you…”

DT: “Years later, in 2014, I was living in LA and I had a call saying that Lionel was two weeks out from a North American Tour and needed last minute styling for him and his band. He had selected me from five online portfolios he was shown and wanted to meet me to discuss. I was invited to his home and shown into a living room.  In he walked, and said “Oh! YOU’RE David Thomas!!” and we’ve been working together on all his styling ever since…”

NS: “I think you’ve transformed and elevated his image – vital exercises for an entertainer… to keep evolving. What was your end goal when working with him and was he open to all your ideas?”

DT: “The thing about clothes is how they make you feel; I wanted Lionel to feel great about himself, true to his rock and roll persona but also current and authentic. He has a real love of fashion and enjoys our time together in fittings; he’s open to everything and always wants to try every single thing on. He describes our working relationship  like this – “We’re both clothes whores and I have to keep him out of my closet because we wear the same size. Some people like boats, some people like planes, we like clothes, that’s what it is. It’s fun.”

NS: “How brilliant – it sounds like you have great rapport which is so important when you want to produce your best for someone. With regard to Sofia’s wedding, the Coronation within the same month,  and the amazing outfits Lionel wore, what was your thinking behind each design? I mean, they were beyond impeccable – not in an over-the-top way… just perfection, and I don’t say that lightly!”

ABOVE: Film by Marco Caputo Films; floral decor by Roni Floral Design; event production Banana Split

DT: “For the wedding, I wanted Lionel to look stylish, chic and timeless; wedding photos live on forever so that was important to us. Obviously glamorous and like a rockstar too! We selected a Saint Laurent wool double breasted peak lapel tuxedo with satin lapels and a slim pant, a Dolce and Gabbana white tux shirt and a Tom Ford satin bow tie. We finished the look off with a pair of Balmain black patent leather ankle boots with a heel and a pair of Bulgari white gold cufflinks…”

NS: “I know it must come naturally to you now but I’d never have thought of using all these different labels; normally someone just wears one designer top-to-bottom… I’ve got to say, that impresses me about what you do because it’s a unique talent. What did you decide to go with for the Coronation?”

DT: “For the Coronation and surrounding formal events I decided to get everything made in London. It was so important to me that Lionel came correct; particularly as he’s a personal friend and guest of HM King Charles and also has his role as the first Global Ambassador and Chairman of the Global Ambassador Group for The Prince’s Trust. There was no room for mistakes. I wanted him to look on par with The King and be suitably dressed for the gravitas of the occasion and yet still express his legendary stylistic flair. It was imperative to us that we used British brands for such a momentous occasion…”

DT: “Two months prior to the Coronation I flew over to London to meet with my longtime collaborator Joe Woolfe; he’s an incredibly talented bespoke designer and stylist with a vast knowledge of traditional formal menswear. Together we went over all the events Lionel would need styling for: Royal Garden Party, BBC interview, and the Coronation itself. Then the day after, four different looks for his attendance at Windsor Castle: Afternoon Tea with Their Majesties The King and Queen, the Coronation Concert performance in the Castle grounds, the reception afterwards and then lastly the live filming of ‘American Idol’ from Windsor Castle. We went over all the research we’d prepared, made design decisions and selected fabrics. I had a tailor measure up Lionel in LA and the process was started. Our first fitting took place when we landed the Tuesday night before the Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace. That look, morning dress, consisted of a custom midnight blue morning coat, duck egg blue double breasted vest, classic light grey stripe pants, white shirt with monogrammed cuffs and a handmade silk tie in pale yellow. I accessorized with an antique silver watch chain and an antique tie pin, a pair of white gold and diamond cufflinks from Garrard – who created the Imperial State Crown and the Queen Mary Crown which King Charles and Queen Camilla wore on the day of the Coronation – and a pair of Scabal black leather lace up shoes…”

Morning dress is the most formal Western dress code for day attire and is generally restricted to certain weddings, royal garden parties and horse races. The name originated from the practice of gentlemen in the 19th century riding a horse in the morning with a cutaway front, single breasted morning coat. According to Debrett’s, morning dress should not be worn for events starting after 6pm.”

Dave Thomas

DT: “To finish off the look, Lionel wore an antique Parisian silk top hat, lovingly restored by Lock & Co (The world’s oldest hat shop, founded in St James in 1676). Patrick from Lock & Co. came to the hotel that morning armed with an 18th Century device – one of only 8 still in existence in the world – which was used to take the exact shape of Lionel’s head and he returned with the hat an hour and a half later perfectly formed to fit Lionel. The top hat is the pinnacle of a gentleman’s formal wardrobe and he wore it with panache!”

NS: “I can feel the anticipation just from hearing about it, you must both have been so excited and nervous at the same time – very memorable!”

DT: “The next look was for the BBC interview taking place on the Friday evening, the night before the Coronation. Lionel was interviewed alongside Queen Rania of Jordan. It was important to me that he look statesman-like, so for this he wore a bespoke three piece, black wool single breasted suit with a double breasted vest, a custom white shirt with a cutaway collar and a handmade full Windsor knotted burgundy silk tie, a pair of Garrard white gold and diamond cufflinks and Scabal shoes. The full Windsor knot is the correct term for one of the most classic and instantly recognisable tie knots known to well groomed men. Its royal name originates back to the reign of the Duke of Windsor (King Edward VIII before his abdication) where men would emulate the style of his wide knot tie…”

NS: “Dave, this is an education – so much I didn’t know. I’m sure you must have picked up a bit of historical background as well along the way. Truly a momentous occasion in your career…”

DT: “For the Coronation itself, Lionel wore a bespoke black morning coat with matching black double breasted vest, traditional dark grey striped pants, a custom white shirt with piqué collar and cuffs and a handmade pale gold tie with a full Windsor knot. This was accessorized with the Lock & Co top hat and a black umbrella with silver hardware from Swaine – the oldest luxury brand in the world, serving royalty and nobility since 1750 and supplier to the King. His gold vintage 1920’s pocket watch was a gift to Lionel from his partner, Lisa Parigi, beautifully engraved on the back for the occasion. The finishing touch was the spectacular Garrard ‘White Rose’ diamond brooch created especially for the Coronation and never worn before; it was amazing to have Lionel wearing a British brand with such an amazing Royal history for such a special occasion…”

DT: “Next up was tea at Windsor Castle with their Majesties on Sunday afternoon prior to the Coronation concert; although slightly more relaxed, this look still needed to have a formality to it. We created a bespoke midnight blue single breasted suit, custom white cutaway collar shirt and a full Windsor knotted handmade sky blue silk tie…”

DT: “After that was the performance at the Coronation Concert in the grounds of Windsor Castle. Lionel was on stage with his band, a choir and a military orchestra as well as a group of dancers; it was important that he stood out on the stage…”

DT: ”I designed a black silk shirt and a white silk tailcoat with black Swarovski hand beading on the collar and cuffs, and an explosion of white Swaroski crystals cascading from the shoulders. I completed the look with a pair of Paige coated jeans and Saint Laurent boots. He looked every inch the ‘Global Superstar’ and it was a striking contrast to all the previous week’s looks!”

ABOVE: A collage of accolades to Dave Thomas

As a stylist, I deal with multiple different personalities in high stress situations and often at short notice, but I approach everything with a solution-based philosophy. Essentially there is a problem – ‘What to wear?’ – and my job is to find the solution as efficiently as possible, on time, and on budget…”

Dave Thomas

NS: “You mentioned all the major brands before, which other design houses do you work with most frequently?”

DT: “It really depends on the client and the job; I use many design houses but I tend to favor European brands. Personal favorites include Alexander McQueen, Saint Laurent, Paul Smith and Dolce & Gabbana. In LA I love to work with local brands RichFresh and Amiri…”

NS: When you have to have specially designed pieces made, where do you go? To designers? Or do you have your own team?”

DT: “All the stage costumes are made by a company called Muto Little. They’re amazing craftspeople and make outfits for a lot of big names and for their tours. They used to make clothes for Michael Jackson back in the day…”

NS: “And you started your own label, which comes across like a fab idea because the looks you produce are so aspirational; where can clients access it?”

DT: “The idea of starting my own label was to create a space where I could get creative and collaborate with brands, artists, designers and celebrities. It’s not a conventional brand by any means. I wanted to produce timeless stylish pieces that are not seasonal and not disposable. Rather than doing a collection every six months, I release drops. Drop 1 was a collection of fine knitwear and sweats featuring a collaboration with Australian street artist Kid Zoom (AKA Ian Strange). Drop 2  was a series of suits and outerwear with collaborations with Jack Victor and Golden Bear. The last Drop 3, was a collaboration between myself, John Legend and Golden Bear to celebrate the release of his album “LEGEND”. We produced a varsity jacket in four colorways with “LEGEND” emblazoned across the back which is available on www.David Thomas.com…”

DAVE THOMAS: FAMOUS LAST WORDSIn November 2021 I published a coffee table book, “Vanity Project – A tale of Fashion and Celebrity Styled by Dave Thomas”; his Majesty King Charles requested I do so when we met for the first time over 10 years ago, to tell my story and illustrate a Prince’s Trust success story.  He very kindly wrote the foreword, Lionel Richie, now Global Ambassador and Chairman of the Global Ambassador Group of The Prince’s Trust, wrote the introduction and John Legend wrote the afterword. It’s the story of how I got started with my grant and my career over the last 30 odd years, as well as an insight into the styling business and how the worlds of fashion and celebrity collide. It features thirty-eight interviews with the likes of Boy George, The Spice Girls, The Backstreet Boys, Philip Treacy, Sir Paul Smith and many more plus over 400 images. The book is published by Unicorn Publishing and is available on Amazon plus most bookstores, online and off. All proceeds are donated to The Prince’s Trust, of which I’m now a proud Ambassador.” Dave Thomas

WEBSITE: http://www.DaveThomasx.com

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