Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Shows

I’ve been asked many times “who’s clothing do you like?” or “What collections do you look at?”. In fact, I was asked that just this morning, so without a lot of research, I can name three of my favorite collections. I love, love, love what Christoper Bailey does at Burberry. The clothes look very modern and new to me and there’s a relaxed quality to them that just seems like genius to me. I always admire Lanvin. Alver Elbaz takes real clothes and just makes them the ultimate in chic. A collection that I can’t wait to see every season is Rodarte. Kate and Laura Mulleavy—sisters—just blow my mind with what they come up with. Their look is always total—check out the paint (tattoo like) on the models. There are many more, but these would probably be my top three.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Back to Work!

It’s been a while since my last post. I think I fell right back into my old ways; after opening a collection, I always wanted some time off mentally. So, I’ve let my fashion experience settle for a while and now I’m ready to go back at it.

I’ll fill you in as to what’s been happening the past couple of weeks. It became painfully aware that we will need a showroom in New York to work with. I thought that I would be able to handle orders that we took from the Coterie, but I’ve come to realize that I need the clothing in New York hanging on someone’s rack so that we keep up the exposure. To that end, we are actively looking for a multi-line showroom in the city. I’ll keep you posted.

Production is moving along on the first line. All the fabrics have been ordered and we’re starting to finalize patterns.

I repeated the fashion show for our local hospital here in Kingston last Friday night—I’m a member of the board and it was a fundraiser to benefit the hospital. I was pleased and honored to do it. It was a lot of fun to show the clothing to non fashion professionals. The fashion press is great but they see so many shows that I certainly see how they may get a bit tired or jaded in the process. The hospital audience loved the show, and more importantly, they seemed to love the clothes—it was great to show them to appreciative, “real” people.

That’s my blog for now—more later!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What's in An Age?

I’ve had a week in Sydney to ponder just what I’ve gotten myself into. It was a fairly relaxing week - lots of sightseeing, touring and walking - but the clothing line, my new business, was always on my mind.

I think one of the questions that has been asked of me, and I ask of myself, is, quite simply, am I too old to do this? Let’s face it, I’m probably the only “new” designer out this season that is an AARP member. I’ve also been told that “fashion is for the young”, “you’ve got a good business now, why would you want to start another?”, or, the one I love, “you won’t have the energy to do it.” I’ve pondered every statement and piece of well-meaning good advice I’ve received and I decided that there was no really good reason not to do it. I mean, fashion may be for the young, but does that mean I have no right to do it? There are some very talented kids out there (and for purposes of this blog, that means anyone under forty); however, at the same time, almost all of the most influential designers working today are older than I (Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren, Karl Lagerfeld, Oscar de la Renta, Armani, to name a few). In fact, even Marc Jacobs is in his forties. So, after much thought about the “age thing”, I felt that it didn’t hold water. Anyway, I feel that I’m in one of the most creative times of my life - I just have to remember not to let others tell me that I’m not.

I’ve got a good thing going with my collectible business. It’s now almost eighteen years old. Sure there are always challenges, but over the years, we’ve been able to meet those challenges and move ahead. I have a very talented staff that is willing and able to do more - I’m very lucky that way. My established business can help me build the new one - it just makes sense to me.

When I left the garment business, I knew I could not go back if I had to work for someone else. This time, I’m doing it for me, and doing clothing the way I want.

There is one other thing. Before I decided to do this, I spent a couple of hours talking to Gene Simmons (yes, of Kiss). I flew to California to meet with him to discuss a licensing deal. He listened to me talk about plans for my company, about where we were headed and all, and he finally said to me, “You need to think bigger.” He then proceeded to rattle off about ten great business ideas. Regardless of whether or not any one of the ideas was right for my business, that wasn’t the point. The point was think big, and think often! I decided on the plane trip back that I had to give this a shot. So, thanks, Gene.

Monday, September 28, 2009


Well, that’s over. The Coterie is finished for Spring 2010. I must say, it was quite an experience.

Last Monday, the day after I returned from Australia, I met with Jack, Shauna and Michelle to set up our modest booth at the Javitz Center in Manhattan. I was beat from the trip, but anxious to get started - to see how these clothes were going to do.

Set up for the Coterie was certainly easier than the collectible trade shows we do - basically, it was just steaming the clothes and hanging them on the rack in the booth. Simple and quick - but somehow, we managed to fill the day.

The show started on Tuesday - I had no idea what to expect. Buyers swarmed the isles and before we knew it, we were in business!

If any of you have been to a trade show, you have a pretty good idea of what it was like - but for me, unlike the collectible shows, people were much more business-like and serious, but we did meet some very friendly buyers.

So how did we do? We took a few very nice orders and gave away many cards in hopes of future business. Was I thrilled with the response? I wouldn’t say thrilled, but I was pretty pleased. After all, few people had ever heard of the Company.

I have a lot to think about—I’ll keep you posted!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wow, What a Show!

Just some quick thoughts from the Coterie..... It's been a blast. It's very, very busy at the show--it's almost overwhelming. We have a great spot on a corner, so it's nice exposure.

Best of all, we took our first order shortly after the show opened yesterday. All very exciting!

I'll have more to report, shortly.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Behind-the-Scenes Images - Robert Tonner 2010 Spring Collection

Label Detail
Ready to Start!
Directing the Models
Adjusting the Look
Meeting the Press
Ready for the Runway
Checking the Fit

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What a Ride!

I apologize for my apparent disappearance during the past few days. If you have been following my blog, then I would assume you know my fashion show took place. It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had. At a certain point, I just had to let the events of the day unfold and go with it. But before I go any further, let me back up a bit.
Robert Tonner and His Models
I believe the last blog was a couple of days before the show. It turns out the design room finished the show samples by noon on Monday. No one was more surprised than I - we had time to do at least one more sample - and so we did. If you’ve looked at the pictures from the show, it was the pale green ribbon coat dress and it was finished the morning of the show. There is nothing like last minute sewing to add a little stress to a show! I finished the run of show (lineup) the weekend before so adding another outfit meant more than just getting the dress done - I had to insert the outfit into the show. Not as easy as it may sound; by adding an additional outfit it throws off the already finished run of show as well as my very carefully calculated shoe plan. I took a chance - without changing the entire line-up, I gave one model an additional outfit. She had only three looks between her changes, but the model I asked was more than up to the challenge but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The New Look

On Tuesday, September 8th, I headed for the city. I planned to spend the night (and hopefully sleep) and get a few last minute accessories. Strangely enough, I was able to sleep. I think at the time I felt that it would be what it would be - at that point there wasn’t much I could do about it, so I guess I just relaxed.

In Make-up

On Wednesday - show day - I got up early and went to the hotel gym. For me, that’s a real stress reliever and at the same time, I could plan my day. By 10:30, I was at the Metropolitan Pavilion. We were able to book the show space for the day starting at 7:00 am, so, by the time I arrived, the clothes were already there and the show set up was well under way. I was bowled over by how wonderful the runway space looked. The Pavilion is a perfect space - a pure white event space that, I hoped, wouldn’t fight the clothing.

Michael Giunta on Hair

In the back, the clothes were not yet on their appropriate racks, my staff was trying to organize and the lighting guys were trying to make sense of all the equipment. I was just in awe and at the same time, nervous. It was a mess! By noon, it was much more organized; the clothes were on their racks, the light guys were about done with their jobs and the models had started to arrive.

Adjusting the hem

Because the whole show was done on a tight budget, I felt that I wouldn’t spend the money to have the models come up to Hurley for a final fitting. I completely trusted the size and proportion of my fit model - but of course there could always be a surprise, so as soon as the models were ready the assigned outfits were tried on. Sometimes, things work out as I hope/plan and that was the case. Everything fit (we did have one pair of pants that needed to be shortened) and I was thrilled that we had no shoe surprises. With a few last minute accessory additions, we were ready. The models went on to hair and makeup and I spent the hour before the start of the show checking the music and lights. By 2:30 the first attendees began to show (in the fashion business, you can bet that the early attendees were friends and family - fashion professionals arrive much closer to start time - that was what I remember and that’s what happened).

Arriving Guests

I knew that although the show was supposed to start at 3:00, fashion shows rarely start on time so I didn’t want to have the models get into their first outfits until about ten till three. Once I gave the go ahead to start, the models got dressed and lined up. If all this sounds very organized, it wasn’t - there is a lot that goes on backstage at a show. We had the models, dressers and backstage press photographers. By three, all models were dressed and we were ready to go. Then you play the waiting game. I was on a headset talking to Jack (my VP) and Tom (marketing) who were out front. They gave me minute by minute updates on who was coming in and how many of the press were there. Harper’s Bazaar arrived, as did two editors from WWD, many online fashion press, but we held back waiting for the photographer from WWD. Much to my disappointment, by 3:17, he hadn’t shown and I knew we had to start. And so, we did!

Gilt Coral Ensemble

The show was a blur. The music started and the first girl went out. Tom was at the end of the runway and would signal me by headset when the next model was needed. As soon as I got the go-ahead, I sent out the next look. It was surreal. The models would line up and I checked them as they went out. And, before I knew it, the show was over. Seventeen minutes tops. All done. Whew!

Mist Top with Peridot Embroidered Pants

So. How does it feel? Great at the time, but I’m still processing the whole thing. I am so thankful for the help I had from the people I work with—I certainly couldn’t have done it without them. I’m very pleased with the show pictures and as far as the press, the reviews we received were great. I think I accomplished what I wanted to - I wanted to say “I’m out here” and I think that was, more or less, accomplished. Would I have liked more press? Absolutely. But I knew going in that a first show is always difficult. According to WWD there were 177 shows planned for spring as well as 122 presentations. I was one among many.

Bullion Gold Sequined Blouson Cocktail Dress

On Thursday, I left for a convention in Sydney, Australia. We’ll have a few days to relax here before traveling back next Sunday (and I sure need it). Then it’s back to New York for the Coterie - which is the most important part of this grand adventure - selling the clothes.

Polished Nickel Silk Jacquard Gown

Thanks for reading and I’ll get back to you over the next couple of days with some additional thoughts.


Wednesday, September 9, 2009


OMG...1.5 hours before the show starts...looks like we're ready!  More soon...

Friday, September 4, 2009


Shoes are always an issue. The goal is to find the best deal for the best shoe possible. When I lived in New York it was a little easier - there were shoes stores all over the place and I could go a day or so before a show to pick up any shoes I needed. It’s harder now; one, because I’m two hours away from the city and two, because a lot of those stores I shopped at are no longer in business. I did my best yesterday, but I really couldn’t find anything I liked for the right price. We’re down to the wire so I’m heading to an upstate mall this afternoon to see what I can find. It would be great if I could hire a stylist to do this for me, but it’s not in the budget. Plus I’m not doing a shoe show; I don’t need “statement” shoes, I just need beautiful, simple shoes.

I was able to find jewelry that works with my theme - actually, a ton of it - so that won’t be an issue. I was also able to pick up the final buttons that I’ll need. On a side note, I also found a button vendor that does wholesale - and I love his assortment. That’s one more step to getting this stuff to the stores.

I made a quick stop at The Metropolitan Pavilion. It was just a last minute check on the space and a couple of details about bringing the clothing into the space. I met with a very helpful, very nice women who gave me some great suggestions about the show setup. Boy, it’s a thrill to see the space - that’s when I feel that all of this is real.

Today has been crazy. We’re working on the layout for the Coterie. There are a ton of details that need to be gone over and answered today. Yep, it’s crazy time!

I’ll have more to report later.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


This will be a short post today. I am off to New York City to pick up some jewelry and shoes. I hate to be away from the room in these last few days before the show, but the models have to have shoes to wear!

Yesterday was very productive in the design room - many things were finished, or at least got closer to being finished. I’m very happy with the way the dresses are shaping up - I feel like I’m striking a balance between youthful and chic.

I had a second editor from WWD confirm yesterday—at least I can relax a little about that.

All for now.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ups & Downs

What a rollercoaster! We had a fantastic fitting today. The clothes are coming together, and we now have almost enough finished for a fashion show of a decent size. In my experience, a show needs at least twenty outfits to make sense. I may have twenty-six or, if I’m lucky, twenty-eight. So the fitting was great, and I’ll only get to work with the model one more time before the show. That’s one big drawback of not working in New York City. My fit model comes from the city but we have to plan well in advance to get her up here. Anyway, on Saturday, I’ll focus on last minute fittingsand a few corrections. And, I’ll have her try on all the outfits that will be in the show just to make sure there are no surprises. Plus that’s the time when we add accessories. Ordinarily, I would try to keep accessories to a minimum, but my theme or inspiration calls for more. (By the way, I’ll talk more about the inspiration as we get closer)...
Fitting With the Model

Requests for seats at the show are coming in nicely. The press has been a little slower than I would have liked but we are getting them. I did have one major disappointment - won’t be at the show. However, we did get a positive response from WWD - and I’m thrilled about that.

Checking a hemline

One thing I did realize today - I was working on a dress and I said to the pattern maker “when we go into production”. That was new. Until now, I was focused on the show primarily. Although I am scoping out factories (and I think we’re finding the best of the best) I wouldn’t let myself think about the selling of the clothes. I know that sounds strange, but now I think I’m ready. I think I’ve done some really pretty things and I want them out there in the stores! So there you have it.

More, later!

Monday, August 31, 2009


Ten days until the show and things seem to be humming along. The design room is really throwing everything into it - I think they’re enjoying themselves but that just may be wishful thinking on my part.

I did get away this weekend. I attended a wedding at the Sagamore Hotel at Lake George in upstate New York. The lake and hotel were spectacular as was the wedding. It’s been my only time off since I started this adventure, and I sure needed it.

This is going to be a very busy week. I’m trying to cram in at least two fittings with our model and I have to finish getting all the shoes and accessories. I’m working on the music for the show too - which is kind of fun. The music is all about trying to evoke a mood and reflects the feeling of the collection. I’ve picked a few tunes that I like but there’s a lot more to do.

I mentioned a fitting. I think fittings are the hardest and yet the most rewarding thing about putting together a line. Fit is crucial, both for samples and for stock. I’m working with a great model - her name is Aida. The relationship with a fit model is so important; a good model can help with construction and fit, and more importantly, act as a muse. I’ve always done my best design work with I work directly with the model. I’ll see about getting pictures of the fitting up on the blog sometime on Wednesday.

The RSVP’s for the show are coming in every day and so far I’m getting a nice response. I’m holding my breath about responses from Women’s Wear Daily and Both are so important to the Fashion Industry….

My posts may tend to be a little more frantic in the next few days - and if they are you know why!


Friday, August 28, 2009

Coterie 2010 Spring Summer Collections

Good news yesterday. We were accepted into the Coterie! I was sure sweating this one. The Coterie is a trade show for fashion and, being a brand new line, I don’t have a lot of options when it comes to selling the collection to the stores. I mean, there are reps and showrooms, but I feel like I need to get out there and meet the customers before I turn the line over to anyone else. The Coterie is a well respected venue - it’s a juried acceptance to the show - so I’m thrilled that we made it. After all, making the clothing is fun but it will be even more fun to sell them.

The crazy part of this whole adventure is the fashion show. So why do it? I wouldn’t have had to - and I was advised not to by a fashion “insider”. I just feel like I didn’t have time to waste. You do a show for the exposure (for better or for worse) and I just feel like that kind of “fast tracks” the process. We’ve received a lot of calls from the press asking about the line and the show - so even before I do the fashion show, there is attention just from the announcement.

Doing the line does add a lot of stress to this place, however. Pretty much everyone is on board; I have a very supportive group here - but I’m sure they’re still wondering what I am getting them into now. I think probably the least enthusiastic person is our accountant. I do cause him a lot of anxiety. Well, such is life.

Guess that’s all for now. I’ll post more about the show soon.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Okay, so what the hell am I doing?

I left the fashion industry in 1990 and I swore I’d never go back. It wasn’t that I didn’t like designing - it’s really all I’ve ever wanted to do. It was the fact that I hated the business of fashion or at least what I perceived that to be. But fashion itself is in my blood. When I left, I felt I could still design - on a much smaller scale of course (dolls and action character figures) and , for a while that was fine. I’m also a sculptor and I love sculpting so doing both seemed to me like the dream job. But you know what? I really never lost the desire to design real clothing for real women. And I discovered one other thing…I liked building my business - that too has its creative side. My collectible business is one of the most successful in the field.

So, you may ask, why start something else? Well, that is what I ask myself when I wake up in a cold sweat many nights - what the hell am I doing? I certainly didn’t need to start something but I just think it’s the challenge. I’ve been told I’m too old, that it’s a bad time - all of that and more. But that just makes me more determined to do it. So, I’m doing it.

So what about the blog? I’m not much of a writer, but I think this is a story that might be worth telling. I’m going to record my thoughts as I go through the process. It will certainly help me sort out stuff and maybe it will encourage someone else to try something he/she really wants to do in spite of a long shot.

Enough for today, more later!