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Curated By:

KENNY THOMAS

Kenny Thomas has led more creative lives than a cat, albeit a cool one. Currently, our go-to photographer and advisor to the design team, Kenny started his career as a sales associate at Ralph Lauren’s Men’s Flagship Store on Madison Avenue and worked his way up to Design Director of RRL before becoming a photographer. While at Polo Ralph Lauren, he was also an early mentor to a starry-eyed kid from Iowa named Todd Snyder. 



TODD SNYDER: YOU’RE A GUY FROM TAMPA, FLORIDA WHO WAS A JOCK IN HIGH SCHOOL. HOW DID YOU END UP IN FASHION?

KENNY THOMAS: At the University of Florida, I was your typical frat guy. If you’ve seen Animal House, it was pretty much like that except we never killed a horse in the dean’s office. After graduation, I came up to New York and walked into Polo on Madison Avenue, asked to see the manager. He gave me a shot as a sales associate. They dressed you like you were Jay Gatsby. So, you’re walking into the Greek diner in a hopsack linen suit, and people were looking at you. And you started to understand the power of fashion.

TS: HOW DID YOU MAKE THE LEAP TO DESIGN?

KT: I met Ralph Lauren and got to know him. The way he styled himself with vintage garments immediately spoke to me. And I was always asking him questions about the history of the items and where he found them. After a couple of years on the floor in both the New York and East Hampton stores, he asked me if I would like to come work in men’s design.

TS: WHEN I GOT THERE IN THE NINETIES, YOU WERE ALREADY THIS KIND OF COOL HUNTER...

KT: This was pre-internet. You couldn’t just google a World War I officer’s coat. My job was going to places like the Bettmann Archives in London to find vintage photographs of the Duke of Windsor or flea markets like Portobello Road, The Rose Bowl or Brimfield to find inspiration—a vin- tage Lacoste shirt--that Ralph might react to. Af- ter Ralph blessed one of my ideas, I’d start working with one of our incredibly talented designers—I mean Nili Lotan was there and so were you— to turn these ideas into clothes because I don’t illustrate, and I’m not a trained designer.

TS: HOW DID YOU GET STARTED AS A PHOTOGRAPHER?

KT: You need to learn the rules to break the rules. I was looking at what Prada was doing— things like a black nylon trench coat—or the way Paul Smith was mixing tailoring with wit. And I wanted to start pushing the envelope in a direction that was a bit like what Black Label became. But to sell these edgier concepts internally, I needed to photograph the samples on models.

TS: IT WAS ABOUT A DECADE LATER THAT WE RECONNECTED. I WAS DOING MY FIRST COLLECTION IN 2010. AND I REACHED OUT TO YOU BECAUSE I NEEDED SOMEONE WHO HAS THE TECHNICAL SKILL TO TAKE PICTURES AND ALSO COULD ACT AS A COLLABORATOR IN THE DESIGN PROCESS?

KT: That was ten years ago. And now I’m working with Jim Moore! And he’s made me a better photographer. I mean Jim has worked with legends like Arthur Elgort and Richard Avedon. I’ve had these two careers. Not everyone gets a second bite at the apple, and I’m immensely grateful.

Follow Kenny on Instagram @KLT63