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Behind-the-Scenesters: Tony King

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Designers design. Photographers photograph. Models model. That much—in broad strokes, at least—is clear. But what about the artists, technicians, and industry insiders, often unpublicized and underappreciated, who help to get clothes and accessories made and shown? Call them Behind-the-Scenesters: people who shape our experience of fashion but never take a bow on the catwalk or strike a pose for the camera. Without them—from patternmakers to production designers—the show wouldn’t go on. And in our recurring series, sits down with a few of these pros to find out, basically, what they do.

Fashion, at heart, is an industry built on goods: a leather bag, a silk dress, a pair of denim jeans. These are physical objects, made to be used. But the fashion industry doesn’t communicate with consumers the way producers of other commodities do. You don’t sell apples with an ad campaign starring Marion Cotillard, and it’s hard to imagine people snapping up dish soap during an online flash sale. Fashion as media communicates through art and aspiration, and, like all media, fashion has been in flux as it attempts to seize on the opportunities—and head off the challenges—of the digital age. Very often, Tony King is the person fashion brands turn to for a vision of their digital future. The creative director of the agency King, he currently works with labels such as Hudson Jeans, Net-a-Porter, Reiss, and Thakoon, helping them to develop everything from iPad apps to e-commerce platforms to Facebook pages. Prior to that, King was a founder of flagship digital services agency CREATETHE GROUP, and as such had a hand in bringing dozens of blue-chip luxury brands online. Here, King talks to about fashion’s digital deficiency, the future of print media, and using a Sharpie for inspiration.

So, Tony: In one sentence, what do you do?
I’m a creative director focused on the digital manifestation of fashion, luxury, and lifestyle brands, whether that be on e-commerce sites, Web sites, social media platforms, or mobile. To really oversimplify that, my job is to have good ideas for brands, and to come up with a recipe for that idea across all platforms.

How did you get into doing what you do?
My background is graphic design. And then when the Internet boom happened in the nineties, I was amazed by the potential, from a design perspective, to design something that was actually functional—design that had a purpose beyond looking good. By the late nineties I was almost exclusively working on Web sites—I was doing Fortune 500 companies, stuff like that. Very corporate. And to make my life more interesting I would do photographer friends’ Web sites, model agencies. I started a small agency for that kind of work, and then Gucci Group contacted me in 2000 and I went in-house.

I’m tempted to ask you what’s changed about the digital space in the past ten years, but the question is probably more like, what hasn’t?
Yeah, exactly. Leaving aside the advances in technology, you just have to look at the emphasis brands give to digital platforms now versus their status back then. It’s gone 180. When I first started I was working lower down, with people in the PR and marketing departments. As of about five years ago, that began to change, and in the last two years, there’s been a dramatic change. I think the recession has made people see the opportunity more clearly. For a relatively minimal cost, you can create a storefront online that does better than your actual brick-and-mortar stores. Now I’m dealing with creative directors, heads of retail, CEOs.

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