A conversation with the London-based stylist and art director
Karlmond Tang is a London-based stylist and art director. With a finance background, his journey to breaking through in the industry is unconventional. We speak to Karlmond about his approach to styling and his love of pre-owned and vintage pieces.
You’ve been in the fashion industry and on the menswear scene for a long time now, but tell us a bit about how it all started. You initially worked in finance right?
My degree was in Chinese with Economics, and I was always going to go the accountancy route. I had pretty big aspirations then so I suppose I was serious about it! Long story short, I was in Shanghai doing a proofreading internship for China-Britain Business Council (a division of UKTI), and a friend who knew I was interested in clothing brought me to a Dunhill PR event – the first of many little did I know. A photographer came up to me, asked me if I was working in the industry, I said I wasn't so he said he would introduce me to a stylist immediately the day after. That stylist then asked me to assist him on a private sales catwalk the following day, and then took me to dinner that evening with the designer and a writer from Vogue. They crash coursed me in their fields, told me to go back and do X Y Z for three years and come back to Shanghai. Unfortunately I haven't made it back to Shanghai but they changed my life, no understatement, of which I am very, very grateful. Having that initial background or interest in finance heavily influences the way I work and its processes.
What is it that you like about styling? What’s your approach/process when it comes to putting together a look?
I love that styling is personal. It's subjective, which means it creates conversation. It always involves others whether it's the subject themselves or the team around you, which is what makes styling so important in creating a narrative or developing an existing story. I have always loved the great stylist Judy Blame's viewpoint on styling – I believe he saw styling as an act beyond just altering the clothing, but as an act that affects or directs all aspects of an image. I think it's a wonderful vehicle to apply stories to clothing.
Process is key in styling! While it may all seem purely creative, I would say clean organisation, lateral thinking and a deep understanding of your client and your audience are the keys to consistent styling. Perhaps this is a boring, nod back to finance related answer, but I don't always believe styling on a creative whim is always the right justification for putting together looks. Being able to instinctively put together looks on repeat comes from respecting process and reasoning. I suppose you could argue that there are basic styling rules, but I really don't think that's the case. There's something for everyone, it just depends on the context it exists in. I think about the world that this individual lives in when I create a look, and how I can make them seem believable in it. My favourite example of this (and why I believe costume designers are quite underrated) is the film 'Her' featuring costume designer Casey Storm. He created this totally believable futuristic world that didn't actually feature any wardrobe that felt futuristic.
You recently styled shows/campaigns for Daniel Arsham and A Cold Wall. Can you tell us a bit more?
Daniel debuted his brand Objects IV Life at Paris Fashion Week earlier this year. I've been styling their trade imagery since the brand's inception three seasons ago, and I'm grateful the team loved our work together enough that they would ask me to do their first presentation. We ended up working together on all elements of the show, blossoming from Daniel's original concept of bringing his own art into the brand's narrative. The team was absolutely amazing. The enthusiasm of Daniel's own team (and of course the man himself), the endless efforts from producers from both Tomorrow London and the show (another Daniel!), the graft of the design team – really it was a wonderful experience, and my first show in Paris! Daniel is a wizard and he's so, so involved and open-minded. I'd like to think the goal of creating a show that encapsulated both the fashion world and art world without feeling caricature of both was achieved. The models played roles as studio hands very naturally, and the fact we had all the clothing covered in dust by the end of the presentation felt incredibly apt for the brand.
Without the opportunities presented by Samuel Ross and A-Cold-Wall* I imagine I wouldn't have done the above. I've worked with them for three years I'd say now, primarily styling their trade imagery. Samuel applies intellect and discussion to everything he does with ACW*, and I have always enjoyed our conversations on styling and working with his vision. His team are so talented, and each time we work together I always try to conversate with as many departments as possible for the full picture. The SS23 campaign was shot by Rob Rusling, and we've wanted to work together for such a long time so this was a great opportunity. He's incredible and such a lovely guy. On this occasion, I had actually already styled the collection for trade and for their lookbook, which meant I had to do something different for the campaign. I would say this was the best iteration of what I was trying to achieve under the brand's direction, but I would also say that it's also due to Rob's work and casting director Marqee Miller's consistently great faces. There's always so much dialogue that goes on with styling beyond simply presenting looks, and I have always loved that Samuel pushes and respects that with enthusiasm, wide references and also apt criticism.
You’re wearing a few Issey Miyake pieces in the images we captured. Which(other) brands are you gravitating towards these days?
I'm trying to cut down on my collecting. I've been trying to find a lot of 80s/90s Armani pieces. I've had to put a self-imposed ban on buying more CDG black blazers. Homme Plisse / Issey Miyake will always remain a constant for me and something I see as essential to the working + creative wardrobe. I love the vision of Fear of God but it's nothing I personally buy. Who doesn't like Our Legacy or Studio Nicholson? Drake's are one of the most consistent brands I've seen from all their imagery, community, copy, direction, casting – I mean the whole lot. I have also really enjoyed the new Zegna approach. Oh and who could forget my true love Lemaire, with of course a nod to Jil Sander too! Have I named them all yet? I feel like all of the brands I work for are a given as well. I think that's why we've worked together for so long in most cases.
Menswear re-sell is growing in popularity. What’s your approach when it comes to rotating your wardrobe?
I am constantly buying second-hand clothing. I am a firm believer in re-selling. Some pieces were simply better made in previous decades and there's a reason why these garments have lasted so long. I blame my stylist nature for my hoarding. I do have a storage unit with plenty of boxes of clothing (and lots of uninteresting bits too). Occasionally I'll go there to put something away and take three things back. The sort of things I like to buy now are multi purpose trousers (pleats I wear to work, formal events, Sunday roast...) an array of black blazers and very special vintage pieces, like this Marlboro tan leather jacket I wear quite often now. I don't like to buy anything that seems to fit one occasion or purpose. It's a waste of space and often a waste of money. I'd also recommend only buying one or two items of the same time. You can make one black denim trucker fit a variety of occasions if you experiment enough.
We met for the shoot in Marlybone near Chiltern Street and you now live in South East London. Which is your favourite part of London?
I love Marylebone because it seems so detached from the rest of the London. People seem to have nothing to do there except have brunches and buy exceptionally nice and expensive clothes, at all times of the day. I am a big eater and any meal in East London is a good one. Spitalfields (Dumpling Shack in particular), St Johns, Brat, Smoking Goat, Dishoom, Three Uncles etc... People watching can be quite good in East also but I find it a bit of the "people's catwalk" and therefore people seem less unintentionally cool or interesting to look at because it's almost everywhere. Where I've moved to now, apart from the odd stylist it's devoid of fashion people. When I see someone with tie dye jeans and cowboy boots down there now THAT is cool.
Take a look at Karlmond's selection of pre-owned pieces from the likes of Yohji Yamamoto, Beams Plus, Descente Allterrain and more...
Photography by Dan Watson.