Australian fashion designer Ryan Lobo launched the label Tome with his friend Ramon Martin in 2011. The duo are based in New York and in the past five years the brand has established a strong following and been seen on the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker and Amal Clooney. Before Tome, Lobo studied at the University of Technology Sydney and became a fashion buyer and stylist for Australian brands and magazines. He told me about how he made his break in fashion, his biggest pinch-me moment and the highs and lows of working in New York.
Tell me about your childhood and growing up in Australia.
I moved to Sydney from Kolkata, India, at the age of five. I was always drawing from a very young age … I remember it was always horses, then clothes. I didn’t play sport. Ever.
How did you get into fashion design?
I always consulted with brands. I worked as a buyer and stylist until I officially became a design consultant. It was fairly organic, as they say. I studied at UTS but, honestly, that doesn’t prepare you for the industry, and not in the way I was ready for. Retail does!
In what way?
Retail prepares you for the realities of consumption – what a woman is willing to spend money on and why. As designers we are asking people facing bulging Western wardrobes – who claim to have nothing to wear! – to add Tome to the mix and it’s a very nuanced relationship between brand and woman. It’s a very sensitive exchange.
Tell me about the inception of Tome.
Ramon and I have known each other for almost 20 years, and after getting over initially hating each other we have been like brothers ever since. We decided in 2010 to begin. By 2011 I had moved to NYC to join Ramon, and thus Tome was born.
Why did you first hate each other?
Because that’s what you do when you are a brooding teen, right? Hate first, ask questions second. We made each laugh hysterically and we still do, often with the same jokes, so the ice melted quickly.
Did you have any struggles when launching Tome?
Being heard amidst everything that is going on globally in fashion, let alone in NYC, is tough. You have to do something that people develop an emotional connection to to stand out. Also nothing is free in NYC. Everything comes at a price. We were lucky to have so many people help us, and alongside them we have worked like never before in our lives to get to this place. Having your own business is like having a baby.
What do you think sets the brand apart?
Somebody recently said that our clothes have integrity and that makes me super-happy. I think there is a sincerity to our approach to clothes, an honesty that women respond to. The same writer who said our clothes have integrity also said that the clothes feel real. Now that’s unique in a world full of mixed messages, isn’t it?
How would you describe a Tome woman?
She is every woman: strong, formidable, artistic, clever, very aware or her own style and uses clothes to accentuate her attributes not disguise them or paint a false picture of herself. Like the clothes she is real.
Do you enjoy being based in New York?
100 per cent it is now home. I love the pace and access to everything any time you want. Everyone who is anyone is and wants to be here so this is the city that represents the best of the best in all industries – fashion, art, food, music, theatre, dance and literature.
What do you do in your spare time in New York?
Honestly, we have the most low-key existences, which involves a lot of sleep and time at home. We both love art, film and dance so that consumes a lot of our spare time, either in person or on TV.
Would you ever move back to Australia?
Of course! It’s so great to be able to come back twice a year … why not more?
How important is the Australian market to you?
It’s the ultimate validation to return home and have women in our clothes. Homecoming is an emotional experience and it is fulfilling when you feel successful here.
You recently launched Tome into David Jones. What does that mean to you?
DJs is the ultimate department store here in Australia. It’s so great to hang next to the brands that we do.
What has been your biggest pinch-me moment during your career?
Meeting Tilda Swinton and having her tell us she likes our clothes and would like to get some for herself. We met her after a friend’s cabaret show. She is very close with Justin Vivian Bond and we dressed Justin for the show, The Drift. We met over a cocktail and she was exquisitely beautiful, very warm and basically a porcelain emu in draped jersey. She knew about us and loved the dress on Justin and thanked us. Thus, we died!
Who are some of the celebrities to have worn your clothes?
SJP [Sarah Jessica Parker], Amal Clooney, Solange Knowles, Isabella Rossellini, Melissa George, Giovanna Battaglia, Julianne Moore, Dakota Johnson, the list goes on.
If you could dress anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
Tilda Swinton, Nina Simone, Diana Vreeland, Tina Chow – because they are style icons.
What is a typical day for you when you’re not working?
Sleep in, brunch, dry cleaning, art gallery visit or film, dinner, cocktails!
If you hadn’t gone into fashion, what would you be doing?
I’d be a food critic. I can’t stop eating – everything – and would love to be paid to do so.
What are your favourite restaurants?
I love anything Asian. My favourite Chinese is Grand Sichuan and Japanese is Soba-ya, both in the East Village [of New York], where I live. In Sydney I love Quay, East Ocean, Fratelli Paradiso.
WE WENT TO Missy French, Potts Point
WE ATE Woodside goat’s curd, leek and caramelised honey tart; sauteed veal sweetbreads with peas, mint and lemon.
WE DRANK Champagne and sparkling mineral water.
Photography by Michele Mossop