SOMETHING TO SAY
A Spotlite on Fashion Designer TAWFIK MOUNAYER
By Marie Havens
They say when an individual looks back on the their life, they reflect on all that they loved, their integrity, and whether or not they were heard. But in the world of fashion, there is very little time for “wearing your heart on your sleeve.” It’s about producing greatness at unimaginable speeds, turning out product and living for next year, instead of today. Such a fast nature simply doesn’t tolerate heart and soul, and has crushed many an idealistic, passionate spirit.
But in 1994 I met an exception: Tawfik Mounayer was like no one I had ever seen. 17 years later, we caught up at his design studio in West Chelsea, Manhattan, to discuss his new company the Tribune Standard, his new collection, his heritage, all that he’s loved and lost, and his undeniably rare character that continuously forces fashion to shut up and listen…for he has something to say.
Marie Havens: Hi Tawfik! Thanks for sitting down with PMc Magazine for our September 2011 Fashionable Issue. We are a few days away from NYC Fashion Week. How’s the current atmosphere at the Tribune Standard?
Tawfik Mounayer: We are extremely busy and beyond excited! It’s our first time actually being on the official show calendar. We will be showing on September 11th at Pier 59 Digital Studios, who’s underwriting the presentation. Pier 59 has been amazing and are making my re-entrance into fashion week as painless as possible!
MH: So to kick things off: Congratulations on all the recent press and highly celebrated reviews! Doesn’t surprise me a bit! Please share with us a little about your new venture, your role as creative director, and how the Tribune Standard began?
TM: Thank you! We are very fortunate that the collection has been well received by the press and also just as important at retail! The concept itself has been floating around in brain for the past 6 years, I would say. I feel strongly about design and the craft of making clothing. Leveraging my commercial design background and designer taste level, I really came at this with this idea that people just want to know more about where their clothes come from. They also want quality, so Tribune Standard was my response to this disposable fashion cycle we’ve been in. And as far as my role as creative director: I wear many hats! We all do at Tribune Standard. Just this afternoon I was wearing my custodial engineer hat!
MH: Tell us about the new collection!
TM: The new collection is an evolution of what we have been doing the two seasons we’ve been around. We are still loving this idea of immaculately tailored pieces, mixed with fluid silks and of course our original designed prints! We do have some curve balls thrown in this season though. We have a love letter to Bob Mackie in the collection, as well as a nod to Cher and Diana Ross (I’ll just leave it at that…).
MH: Being that we’ve known each other for over 15 years, I think your life story is such a profound example of triumph and overcoming adversity. How has this incredible journey been for you? And why has fashion been such a consistent creative outlet?
TM: Actually, 16 years to be exact!
I think when you’ve been through a lot at an early age, it kind of helps you keep things in perspective, and that helps me balance my “fashion life” and my “everyday life.” I am inspired by so many things, fashion is just the outlet I’ve chosen. It’s always something that came easily to me–well, I guess in a way, it sort of chose me.
MH: When I think of incredible love stories, I always think of your relationship with your boyfriend and partner Richard. You’ve been together for as long as I can remember, how has this relationship impacted your life and work? And I have to ask: will you both get married now that this new long-awaited gay marriage law has passed in NYC? Did you ever expect this day would happen?
TM: Richard is probably one of the most amazing people I know. For one, he puts up with me and my insanity, and he understands where I’m coming from. He helps me realize my vision from an art direction branding perspective and, most of the time, helps me dream bigger. We do have to set boundaries when it comes to work though, because we would end up talking about it all the time. There is Tribune Standard and then there is us. About the marriage, We’ve been together for 14 years! But yes one day, when we actually have a moment! But if I have to plan one more thing, I’ll go nuts. I always say with fashion, you get married four times a year!
MH: Shocking that we originally met (both young, eager & idealistic fashion students) in 1995, or was it during the summer of 1994? We both (intensely) studied Fashion Design at Parsons (New) School of Design together, and for years designed at numerous corporate fashion companies here in NYC. Fashion as a business and the role of designer has changed so drastically over the past decade! How has your outlook changed throughout the years and is there still a glimmer of hope that you can recommend to the new crop of young fashion fans?
TM: It was 1994, sweets! I think you were making and selling faux fur hats out of your dorm room and I was probably roaming the halls singing showtunes!
Fashion has changed because the world has definitely changed, it’s become faster and there is way more competition. Everyone is a designer! People have 8 careers. But I always say, if you have something to say, people will hear you. Don’t become a fashion designer because you think it’s glamorous–because it’s not. I’m not saying that those 10 minutes of your runway show aren’t the most delicious, glamorous minutes in the world–because they can be!–but you have to figure out what’s gonna get you out of bed the rest of the year.
MH: But on a more serious level, you have always taken the role of “designer” very seriously. The world is changing, especially our knowledge of fashion’s role with the environment and culture. What role do fashion designers actually play within this? Do you feel they are responsible for making a difference?
TM: One of the definitions of the word Tribune is: a platform that a speaker may address an audience and we hope that’s what we are doing. Addressing a certain audience that wants to listen and learn about the clothing they are wearing. We also love that Tribune Standard evokes this idea of a newspaper and knowledge. The standard part also speaks to a higher standard. We aren’t perfect, but as a company we try to make informed decisions that don’t sacrifice quality of product. And at the end of the day, the clothes just have to be good, regardless of what you are saying, or rather trying to say, people need to react to them. And buy them. Fashion is a commercial art.
MH: One huge aspect that I’ve always loved is your outspoken views of the industry’s lack of culturally diverse models. Such awareness has slowly gotten better, but does this still strike a chord in you? Where did this passion come from and how truly important is it to promote diverse models within the fashion industry?
TM: Well, it’s funny you bring this up, because people are always saying, you like this kind of girl or that kind of girl. I love women, all kinds of women. So it never occurred to me until someone pointed it out. When we do castings I always book girls that I connect with on a certain level. If we end up booking x-number of ethnic girls, so be it. It’s never this political statement, but rather my inclusive view of beauty. I think so many different kinds of people are beautiful, maybe it’s the way I was raised, or rather a reflection of how I developed my sense of self while growing up in upstate New York.
MH: I know your Middle Eastern roots have always played a profound impact in your life and work. Can you share a little about your heritage, your family, and how it has affected your life in fashion? Have you returned to Israel recently?
TM: As you know, I am Palestinian, born in Jaffa, Israel. I came to the USA when I was six years old and grew up in upstate New York with my family. And growing up with a name like Tawfik wasn’t easy. When we got our citizenship, I was given the option to change my name and I remember being 11 years old and looking into the immigration officers eyes and saying: “Do I look like a Tony or a Tom to you?!” By that point I had earned my name, put up with all the ignorant jokes, etc. But yes, growing up as an immigrant in this country has defiantly shaped who I am today. There is a sense of pride and work ethic that had been instilled in me at a very early age. I come from a working-class family that is extremely supportive and loving! Just imagine your six-year-old son coming to you with fashion sketches and saying: “This is what I am going to do with my life!?” I do return to Israel to visit my Dad who has moved back.
MH: Are you open to discussing your mother?
TM: Of course. I lost my mother to her battle with leukemia when she was 39 years old. I was 18. She was my first and biggest fan. My earliest fashion memories star my mother. Whether she was wearing her brand new Gloria Vanderbilt jeans with a mohair sweater or acid-washed jean dress with an asymmetrical zipper closure, my mother loved clothes and through her I saw the power that clothes had. My mother was extremely hard working, she helped my dad work at his grocery store, had another full-time job, kept an impeccable house, and really was involved with her three kids. So it’s not like I had this mom that was a “lady who lunched,” I didn’t learn about fashion by going to couture shows with her. But I did watch her wash the work week away every Sunday morning getting ready to go to church and transforming herself with clothing and make up, and I was in awe! I love my mother! She taught me so much about just being yourself, having confidence, and being strong.
MH: Who are some of your heroes besides your mother?
TM: My Mother is a given. But I would have to say it’s hard to answer this question because so many people inspire me. For instance, there is this woman I always see in our neighborhood, she has to be at least 85 years old, and you see her impeccably dressed. It inspires me because you can tell how much thought and work it takes to leave the house looking as she does, and at 85 especially.
MH: Well, thank you, Tawfik, for taking the time to meet with us. One final question: what’s your ideal day?
TM: My ideal day, huh? Not having to do or be anywhere at a certain time. Being at the beach on a weekday.
Tawfik Mounayer, of Palestinian decent, was born in Jaffa, Israel and moved to the USA at the age of six. He has spent the past 17 years in NYC where he attended Parsons School of Design for Fashion Design and worked as a fashion designer. He is now the Founder and Creative Director of Tribune Standard.
Tawfik Mounayer interviewed by Marie Havens
Written by Marie Havens
All Sketches & Designs © Tawfik Mounayer & Tribune Standard / Courtesy of Tawfik Mounayer & Richard Austin
Layout Design by Richard Austin
Additional Design by Marie Havens
Page 1 :
Tawfik Mounayer, in his NYC studio, Photography by MIKE ROSENTHAL, 2011, Courtesy of Tawfik Mounayer & Richard Austin
Page 3 :
Inspiration & Development, Photography by TAWFIK MOUNAYER, 2011, Courtesy of Tawfik Mounayer & Richard Austin
Illustrations By TAWFIK MOUNAYER, 2011, Courtesy of Tawfik Mounayer & Richard Austin
Page 5 :
Page 6 :