Tom Guinness and the Tenacity of Style

The British Stylist Discusses the Radical Power of Classicism

  • Interview: Reva Ochuba
  • Photography: Ari Marcopoulos

Whether to fall in love or to live a beautiful life, stylist Tom Guinness immerses you in the vertigo of who you could be. His editorial pages are painted in the rouge of classicism, communicating impulsive desire with a refinement that is effortlessly timeless. It makes sense that the Cornwall native and former model sits at the forefront of a new wave in which stylists hold a much more powerful role in fashion. While the industry’s calendar has made many things fleeting, Guinness is guided by the importance of aesthetic stability. As the fashion editor of Arena HOMME+ and a frequent collaborator of Grace Wales Bonner, he brings visions that speak to histories as opposed to seasons.

For his first-ever interview, Reva Ochuba spoke with Tom Guinness from his New York apartment about creative direction, image, and identity.

Reva Ochuba

Tom Guinness

Why did you make the transition from modeling to styling?

It was an impulse. It wasn’t very easy to do, but it was such a strong impulse that I knew I needed to do it. It would have been easier for me to do something else, probably. I’d been around a lot of amazing stylists as a model and became obsessed with the way they worked.

Which stylists?

Alister Mackie and Panos Yiapanis. When I worked with them, I knew this is what I wanted to do.

Once you figured that out, how did you navigate your way through?

Well, you don’t get paid at the beginning. You do jobs because the only way to build your book is through unpaid editorials. You have to be pretty clever to fund that. I wasn’t. I was lucky. I always had little commercial jobs and other sportswear jobs that got me through. Organization also became really fundamental. You can have the most relevant point of view and make the best work, but if it isn’t done efficiently, it just doesn’t work. It’s such a messy job and it’s such hard work and it involves so much collaboration, communication, travel, everything. Right now, I don’t know what I’m doing past September. A couple of years ago that would have freaked me out so badly. I would have been like, “I’m going to die poor and alone.” But now I have a little more faith because that’s just how it works.

Blommers and Schumm. Arena HOMME+.

Blommers and Schumm. Arena HOMME+.

Blommers and Schumm. Arena HOMME+.

Blommers and Schumm. Arena HOMME+.

Do you think social media has contributed to the increased appeal of styling as a profession?

No, because it was happening before that. But Instagram is how it’s manifesting itself now. It’s a job about communication, image, identity. It sounds like a really cushy job to someone who doesn’t know the nitty-gritty. As if I just go in, tell people what to do, then leave. It becomes so much more for even bigger stylists. Those people are creative directors of image and identity.

“Creative director of image and identity.” That’s so perfect.

Yeah, everybody has a vision. With styling there are so many different ways to approach it. From high glamour to raw, vast conceptualism—it’s a very rich, diverse, and varied language. The work will evolve and change as your taste and what’s relevant evolves and changes, but the fundamentals are very consistent. Either you’re interested in very eternal, sublimely beautiful things or you’re interested in literal, cultural things. Everyone’s got something to say about the way people present themselves.

You’re the fashion editor of Near East. How did you feel that fit into what you want to experience as a stylist?

I think my point of view on fashion rounded out another side of Near East. The fashion content of an art publication is typically very safe, but in a way that appeals to people in that world. Taking a couple of risks and enriching it is something a little bit exotic.

Dazed, Spring/Summer 2016, Harley Weir

Also being the fashion editor of a larger publication, Arena HOMME+, do you feel the scope of fashion magazines has changed at all?

Sometimes I feel like only people in the industry actually look at magazines. It's not as broad an audience as we think. I was with a friend’s parent the other day and they asked me, “What do you do?” So I told them about some the projects I had worked on. They were asking questions about the circulation of Arena HOMME+ as if that was something I actually thought about. Growing up, I was always obsessed with the magazines around whatever I was interested in. This English magazine, Sidewalk, had incredible letter sections and I felt very connected to the people writing in. Magazines now are niche, collectable documents around photography and culture. I just do what I can to capture elements of culture I’m interested in that maybe aren’t as relevant as they once were.

Are you producing any special projects aside from your work with Grace Wales Bonner?

The Stussy campaigns with Tyrone Lebon are wicked. The marketing strategy is very pre-Internet, when everything was much slower. It’s an overarching world tour of all of the places relevant to the brand since Shawn started the company 35 years ago. We did the first campaign in L.A., then Tokyo. Jamaica is Spring/Summer 2016. We spend like 10 days in each city, scout people, and take pictures, so every image tells it’s own story. It’s my favorite thing to do.

I can see why! The images are so beautiful and they really give context to the clothing.

Yeah. It’s an amazing position to be in, and Tyrone does a great job of synthesizing these ideas. You’re making images for brand identity and advertising, but the function of the images is not to record clothes.

How do you relate your ideas to the photographers that shoot them?

They all kind of serve a different role or different function, but at the same time they’re all kind of in the same story in a way. I feel like different photographers give a new perspective to the same story.

Luncheon, Spring, 2016, Lord Snowden

Dazed, Spring/Summer 2016, Harley Weir

Is there a narrative?

Probably just things that have influenced me. My mom, and the moment I figured out that you could change your life. The way that you represent yourself and express yourself can take you to places that are more beautiful and more you.

You learned that from your mom?

No, but a lot of my core taste comes from her. She was a bit of a hippie and a bit of a rebel, but was also interested in very classic things. Her favorite colors were navy blue and red, and she would wear like a lot of riding clothes. I can, just the same, be very interested in kind of obscure things and things hard to find out about. It can be quite tricky, but it's always rooted in classicism. Essentially, the character has to be really refined, with any notions of what’s cool to fall away at the end.

That seems like a foundational rubric to abide by.

Sometimes the images I make can be quite wild and other times they’re very restrained. Like, I’m not like the wildest dresser, but it’s a cool, fundamental style. I’ll mix something kind of practical or sportswear with something romantic that feels special. I need both. Too much of one, and I feel like an asshole. It’s all about a balance and what feels right to me at that time.

Stussy, Tyrone Lebon AW15

  • Interview: Reva Ochuba
  • Photography: Ari Marcopoulos
  • Images/Photos Courtesy Of: Tom Guinness