How I'm Making It: Thomasine Dolan of Thom Dolan

Thom Dolan may be a little known up-and-coming label, but designer Thomasine Dolan is actually an industry vet with 20 years under her belt. After years and years of working for big names like Ralph Lauren, Armani and Banana Republic, Dolan decided she was finally ready to tell her own story. In 2010 she launched her label with a few retro swimsuits, which quickly grew into a complete range of classic, masculine-meets-feminine pieces in high quality fabrics. The busy New Yorker balances being a mom of three with running her growing business, both of which she does from her Broome St. apartment. She invited me into her amazing home (her studio is the floor below), and it was easy to get sidetracked as we discussed everything from her love of The Sound of Music to her dismay over the Kardashian phenomenon. One thing is certain, if you haven't heard of this designer, who is as honest and witty as her designs, it's time to take note. Read on to learn more.
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Thom Dolan may be a little known up-and-coming label, but designer Thomasine Dolan is actually an industry vet with 20 years under her belt. After years and years of working for big names like Ralph Lauren, Armani and Banana Republic, Dolan decided she was finally ready to tell her own story. In 2010 she launched her label with a few retro swimsuits, which quickly grew into a complete range of classic, masculine-meets-feminine pieces in high quality fabrics. The busy New Yorker balances being a mom of three with running her growing business, both of which she does from her Broome St. apartment. She invited me into her amazing home (her studio is the floor below), and it was easy to get sidetracked as we discussed everything from her love of The Sound of Music to her dismay over the Kardashian phenomenon. One thing is certain, if you haven't heard of this designer, who is as honest and witty as her designs, it's time to take note. Read on to learn more.
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Thom Dolan may be a little known up-and-coming label, but designer Thomasine Dolan is actually an industry vet with 20 years under her belt. After years and years of working for big names like Ralph Lauren, Armani and Banana Republic, Dolan decided she was finally ready to tell her own story. In 2010 she launched her label with a few retro swimsuits, which quickly grew into a complete range of classic, masculine-meets-feminine pieces in high quality fabrics.

The busy New Yorker balances being a mom of three with running her growing business, both of which she does from her Broome St. apartment. She invited me into her amazing home (her studio is the floor below), and it was easy to get sidetracked as we discussed everything from her love of The Sound of Music to her dismay over the Kardashian phenomenon. One thing is certain, if you haven't heard of this designer, who is as honest and witty as her designs, it's time to take note. Read on to learn more.

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What was your relationship with fashion when you were young? It was always more from a styling point of view. My mom was prudent with expenditures and we never had name brand anything. It would kill me! I also loved comic books and loved looking at the girl characters. As a kid, my friends and I would create outfits and get my older sisters to vote on the best looks. She would use a deck of cards to grade us! I also loved drawing fashion.

So did you pursue fashion for school? Maryland, where I grew up, doesn’t really have a fashion school, but I didn’t have the courage to head to New York when I was 18. I ended up studying graphic design. That led me to working in advertising out in LA after graduating. I really missed fashion though. All I had was getting dressed so I put everything into that.

How did you end up New York and in the industry? Shortly after moving here I met someone who worked for Bill Blass, and I ended up basically stalking him down! I didn’t even have any real experience, so he took a chance on me. I would do embroidery and beading on the patterns, which sort of used my graphic design background. That only lasted about a year before a boss came in and replaced the team. Then it was back to cold calling, which I somehow had the courage to do when I knew rent was due.

Well you certainly landed on your feet. How did your CV grow so strong? I ended up at Ralph Lauren, which was an amazing four years. It had a high level of fabric and construction. Then I went to Armani, which was so different. Back then he was such a god of women’s fashion. My learning at that point was very technical. Then I sort of fell into a role at Banana Republic, where I worked for about 12 years. I had many roles there, including accessories.

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So tell us about starting Thom Dolan in 2010. I left Banana Republic to regroup. I went to Maui for some time to think, and had trouble finding a great bathing suit. I had a fantasy about cotton bikinis from the 1960s. I thought they were so charming and sexy and cute. I like the way it sits on your body. So, I created some of my own. I knew I didn’t want to do just bathing suits, so I started designing clothes as well. I worked from my dining room table for a while.

What were the early challenges? I had the clothes, but didn’t know what to do with them! I had no retail contacts. I had no PR, no sales. I would send cold emails around, but nobody replied! Twenty years in the fashion industry, but I didn’t really know the right people. I literally sat with an intern looking at possible stockists and calling stores. Part of me thinks one of my biggest challenges is not having a business partner. I am really on my own. I still don’t have proper PR and marketing—I’m wearing a lot of hats!

When did the label start to take off? Randomly, a lot of stores in Japan started getting in touch. They had seen me in Saturdays Surf, who had stocked some of my swimsuits and bracelets. Slowly things started getting too big for the dining table. I would say the biggest moment was getting into a showroom. I’m with The News, and they are so great. How do you describe the label? A bit tomboyish. Most things I design have a uniform aspect: sports, school, fast food, marching band. It might have to do with my childhood at Catholic School and playing field hockey. My little plaid skirt with leather tabs was amazing! I quite like high-low as well. I love contrasts, like a dress with flat shoes. I think a lot of it comes back to the styling aspect. I think about pieces that you’ll want to keep forever.

Masculinity is certainly a theme throughout your ranges, has it always been a signature of yours? Yes! Even at Ralph Lauren where I worked in the womenswear, I would always wander into the men’s area. I just loved being around all the tailoring and amazing suits and shoes. I also learned a lot about cuffs and collars during my time there, which I ate up. Stylewise, if I ever wear a skirt I’d usually wear heavy boots to tone it down. I’ve always been into shirting and trousers.

Do you follow fashion closely? There are a handful of designers like Marc Jacobs and Alber Elbaz at Lanvin that I will always check out. Lanvin appeals to my feminine side. In the contemporary world I love APC and Margaret Howell. Both take things that are wearable and make it interesting. I like nostalgia without kitsch.

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Who are your muses and style icons? I love Sofia Coppola and her understated elegance. She always looks great and has quiet confidence. I like Carey Mulligan’s pixie element. That sort of girl looks great in masculine clothes. Lots of times it’s just people on the street!

How do you start a new collection? Where do get inspired? I have lots of files of images and inspiration. I have so many story ideas, because I worked for so many big places for so long and couldn’t dictate the storyline. I saw a girl with bleach blond hair the other day who was sort of dressed Amish, but wearing killer sunglasses and a leather motorcycle jacket, and she was so stinking cute! Amish has always been a story line that interests me. Sound of Music was an inspiration for my recent fall collection—that movie could inspire me again and again!

Any exciting plans for the label you can share? I'd love to do some collaborations eventually, with some American heritage brands or accessories. Maybe a store down the road, who knows? I'd like to do a presentation soon too. There's lots to think about!