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Forbes Interview With Ron Tomson

  • by Irving Baruh
  • 11 min reading time



Ron Tomson: A Global Neighborhood Fashion Brand

Stephan Rabimov Contributor
I write about emerging markets, fashion, arts, and culture.

 Los Angeles is emerging as a fashion capital of the digital empire. From sprouting pioneering showrooms, attracting visionary stylists and social media trailblazers, to nurturing a generation of international designers and fashion educators, the city is reinventing its mythic cultural status. Behind all impressive public transformations is the hard work and dedication of real people. LA’s newfound affinity with the fashion industry expands beyond the now obsolete best dressed lists. It comes through in the fashion tech startups, the growing number of artisans, and new media setting up shop throughout the city’s distinct neighborhoods. Designer Sharon Bensason-Behar, founder of the menswear label Ron Tomson, is one of the people for whom this dynamic process is the coveted “labor of love.” He launched the brand in 2006 and experienced the LA fashion revolution firsthand. This fall, Ron Tomson flagship boutique has been voted as the best neighborhood clothing store by the readers of Los Angeles Downtown News.


Designer Sharon Bensason- Behar, founder of the menswear label Ron Tomson 
COURTESY OF RON TOMSON
 
California’s style ecosystem is notoriously celebrity-centric, and Bensason-Behar does dress a surprising roster of famous men (we’ll get to that). Meanwhile, the brand has an ongoing partnership with the local school district and the police department helping graduates and cadets get outfitted for job interviews and special occasions. What makes this milestone impressive is that a luxury fashion brand can not only survive one of the most challenging times for the industry, but truly thrive locally. Perhaps, the designer’s personal history was meant for a moment like this. His ancestors include 15th century Spanish textile makers and royal Ottoman tailors. His grandparents ran an atelier in Istanbul and created the famous hat that launched the Turkish Hat Revolution. Digital empire met its meta-narrative match. I connected with the fashion entrepreneur to learn more about what it takes to run a fashion business that is a trendsetter both in terms of style and matters of community building.

What were the challenges of entering the conservative menswear market?

I am happy to say that the challenges I faced starting the brand are a thing of the past now thanks to digitization of the fashion industry. Today new talent can start a label and find its audience through social media and digital showrooms. The big challenge for young designers in the past was presenting at costly trade shows. Now you can bypass conservative decision makers and critical corporate buyers to appeal directly to your consumers. Plus, there is the crowdfunding revolution! I really think we have a very nurturing environment for creativity in menswear now.

You dress celebrities and startup stars, police cadets and job seekers... What do they have in common? Who is the Ron Tomson man?

In every garment I make my first motivation is to achieve something unique. It can be a design element, a hard-to-find textile, or a technique that may be the right way of doing something, but too costly, and thus abandoned by most makers. For example, our 80-count pure cotton dress shirts and velvet dinner jackets, functioning sleeve buttons, hand stitched genuine leather shirts, and rare colorways. Anyone driven to amplify their unique inner energy through sartorial attention to detail is the Ron Tomson man. He could be wearing sweatpants or a tuxedo and present an immaculate sense of style in any surrounding. My label isn’t any one look, but the philosophy of achieving a rarity in everything you aspire to do.


Ron Tomson menswear 
COURTESY OF RON TOMSON

Wait, an important asterisk… How did Ron Tomson get its name?

I named the brand in a way that would rhyme with my name. The last three letters of my first name and surname. It’s my calling card.

Let’s get back to clients. Age-wise, your designs resonate with an impressive range of talent from Ne-Yo to David Hasselhoff. How to maintain inter-generational appeal in fashion?

It may be my obsession with the classic construction of tailored clothing. Classic is timeless. My brand is allergic to the ordinary, to mass production, and its compromising practices. I like to implement elements of classic construction into streetwear as well. You know our clothes will always have a great fit. Stylists love that because the result is a luxurious garment that can be worn in versatile ways. I am so proud when someone has chosen to wear Ron Tomson on stage. It means we get to be a part of their unique story as well.

Ron Tomson is worn by very different musicians: Paul Van Dyk, LA Philharmonic, Jason Derulo... What role does music play in your life?

Music is the electricity that powers me. It inspires and motivates my creative process. I’m a huge fan of all these musicians and this translates into a genuine relationship. Our LA store pay tribute to music with its décor, its state-of-the-art amplifiers, and the English-made audiophile sound system by Bowers & Wilkins. I love seeing our customers moving to the rhythm, even dancing while shopping. I think for a more fulfilling life, music and fashion should be experienced together.

Designers often credit music, art, film as inspiration. In your experience, how is pop culture impacting fashion now?

When we talk about a contemporary fashion item, the utility of the garment falls second to its image. For example, the world is hugely inspired by cinema, now more than ever before. Massive cinematic productions are streaming as “seasons” in our living rooms. We are electrified by their worlds and want to re-experience these moments through fashion. Thanks to the cinematic universes of Disney’s Mandalorian, Apple TV’s Foundation, or the new Dune, people are finding themselves curious about “Medieval” clothing and ceremonial details in formal wear. They want cardigans and jeans to feature battle gear details and look as if they were built for survival.


Ron Tomson menswear store COURTESY OF RON TOMSON

Speaking of survival, how is your business adapting to the (post)pandemic realities?

I like to visualize Ron Tomson as a catamaran. One blade is our formal wear, and the other is our casual wear. Fortunately, at the onset of COVID-19, our brand was well positioned both financially and sartorially. As the pandemic pushed the state of fashion further into the sweatpants territory, we regrouped on our casualwear side and sailed on. However, dealing with the health concerns, regulations chaos, store closures, cancellations of fashion shows, and keeping the business running has been emotionally and logistically difficult. It has felt like one long all-hands-on-deck day since March 2020. We are now tilting back to formal wear as we start to see a more balanced fashion demand with dress-up public events coming back. As for the supply chain disruptions, we haven’t been affected as much as our competitors since we don’t use the Los Angeles ports as none of our garments are made in China. All our clothing is imported by air from Europe, mainly Turkey.

While many brands rush into digital-only space, you’re expanding into department store partnerships. What is your rationale behind this strategy?

When it comes to an entertaining and fulfilling shopping experience, brick and mortar is still king. If you are willing to evolve. Department stores have been doing a lot of soul searching, renewing, and redefining themselves. They are once again free to do what they have always done best: explore, curate, and encourage. Macy’s men’s project, The Park, at its Herald Square flagship store in New York City, is a great example of such reimagination. It’s a 14,500 square- foot floor structured to help shoppers discover new brands and latest trends. I have been waiting for this to happen and as a brand we are welcoming these partnerships with open arms. Our exclusive capsule collection is scheduled to debut there in early 2022.

That said, there is no denying the power of digital presence. Our creative director, Rafael Linares, one of LA’s biggest style talents, is driving our e-transformation. Touching all senses while delivering fashion is still very important to me. That’s why we are building a new company culture that nurtures virtual and offline relationships. We are collaborating with local photographers and influencers.

For a brand with global roots, you are unconventionally engaged in your neighborhood. What motivates Ron Tomson’s community outreach?

I find it more impactful when donations and outreach are done within your own community.  We talk to local law enforcement, church leaders, and school administrators face to face to learn where and how we can contribute in the most helpful way. It also enables us to form a much stronger bond with our neighborhood and every personal story, every authentic relationship not only brings purpose to the brand, but also feeds our spirit.


Ron Tomson menswear COURTESY OF RON TOMSON

To succeed in fashion, what is the ratio of business savvy, technical knowhow, and luck?

In my case, it takes destiny. Looking back, I can’t say I was very business savvy or a tech wizard early on, but I was convinced this route was fate. Determination and belief enable you to work harder, get up and try again after each time you fail, inevitably. At some point luck does come into play. However, hopefully, by that time you are ready to ride its wave, because you have already built a stable foundation.

What is the most pressing question on your mind right now?

How quickly can we see the sequel to Dune? Jokes aside, my real question is… Where is social media taking creativity? We went through a period where creativity was liberated online. There were seemingly endless opportunities for talents and brands to shine and engage with the public directly. Then sponsored content came into play at the expense of originality. I think algorithms have made social media channels boring and counterproductive. I wonder where the balance will hang. Are we stuck with pure popularity-based algorithms, or will they be replaced by newborn platforms that again can deliver free and unobstructed flow of creativity?

 

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