Eugene Tong, far too often, is caught in a photo, presumably en route, as he traverses a world backdropped by urban cityscapes. With a certain stoicism and his classic attire, the stylist/consultant is as caught up in the fast pace of the fashion landscape as his peers, never fully having time to contextualise his surroundings. He’s all too familiar with the frenetic gait imposed on the business by its integration with the virtual world. In collaboration with Levi’s Made & Crafted, HYPEBEAST sat down with Eugene to converse about his observations and experience with the internet and social media’s influence on fashion.
Sitting in a botanical garden surrounded by a myriad of flora and throngs of school children running through the grounds, there’s a lively essence, one that could easily distract. Composed, Tong, unbothered by the environmental stimuli, was poised and ready to talk – and with over a decade of experience, there was a plethora to unpack from the acute ebbs and flow.
The scene he painted about the industry, before it became intertwined with the internet and social media, was far different from what it is now. High fashion labels and editors/writers were the gatekeepers that created and dictated the trends that would arrive at the masses through a trickle-down effect. And at the time, they were the style mavens who would use physical magazines to spread their ideology. For many, these bound periodicals became an introduction and the aesthetic bibles that would indoctrinate readers into the community. Tong, however, was galvanised elsewhere, as opposed to the popular American “lad-mags” he grew up around. “When I was young I was travelling to Asia, and I would see Japanese men shopping [for] magazines like Popeye or Men’s Non-no. Those were kind of my first entry into this world because it was just very different from what I was seeing here in the States in terms of magazines.”
A post shared by Eugene Tong (@ettong1979) on Jul 11, 2017 at 5:50pm PDT
Without the convenience of the web, these travels would lay the foundation that would eventually influence the fashion world of today. Armed with this precocious curiosity alongside an influence from his savvy older cousins, he describes the generational difference he sees now in cultural exploration. “You were able to find things with your own sense of discovery. Whereas now, it’s more just like a click or an image search away and you can kind of generally find stuff,” he explains.
Growing up, he serendipitously found himself working with fashion publications.
As a nascent asset working within the industry, he recalls how consumption patterns were situated within a space of patience.
There was anticipation built in, pre-internet that is. You waited for months to see the next collection and then from those you’d derive some trends. And as a magazine, you put those out either through fashion, written news, or POV stories. But then you had time to kind of digest and see the collections.
However, Tong would note that as the web and social media became more ingrained in the culture, there was a discernable shift. The most significant being the industry’s democratisation. Consumers, opposed to “producers”, found themselves more in control than the latter, thus leading them to have a louder voice and more control over stipulations of the business. The ubiquity levelled the playing field, giving more room to newcomers and fostering more inclusion.
Though as the interaction with this social sphere increased, so did the pace of the industry: the speed of things just started increasing on all sides, not just the media side. You see it now, designers are having like six collections a year. And so now the output creativity is just super fast. Now before you can even digest the trend, you’re already onto the next.
Tong realises that it’s too easy to cast off the current contemporary state of affairs and understands that, “creativity in general just flourishes under any circumstance”. The times being felt now are just that, different. And as such, there will be ups and downs. Though he recounts that, “the good thing about social media is how you can very specifically find people in your like mindset, and if you’re a brand that’s how you communicate.”
A post shared by Eugene Tong (@ettong1979) on Oct 24, 2017 at 7:03am PDT
The topic of diversity naturally arose during our conversation. As the internet allowed for niche groups to find havens online, social media became the web that interconnected them across continents. People from the far reaches of the Earth could find community and their web presence engendered greater accessibility for the masses. This in turn created a deep well of diversity that sits in the comfort of a pocket, one that Tong believes the industry is really trying to focus.
“There’s a real focus on inclusion and trying to be as diverse as possible. I think at first fashion was very specific, like if you didn’t look a certain way then the clothes probably didn’t fit you. And now I think because of diversity people are wanting to include all these different types of bodies and ethnicities,” he says. Though he is keen to point out that while it isn’t perfect, there are efforts being made to represent voices and not just include one singular idea. “They are trying. No, I don’t think we’re there yet, but this is at the forefront of the conversation.”
He also adds that as space has opened, there has been the unfortunate by-product of disposability of these newly enfranchised groups and their ideas. “The speed changes things. People are constantly looking for newness and they’re just jumping from one thing to the next.” The same can be attributed to the trends voraciously consumed and birthed by consumers and tastemakers/influencers.
With this new fast-moving trajectory, designers’ creative output, as mentioned, has swelled to satiate those fickle tastes, facilitated by a reservoir of inspiration thanks to the internet. However, Tong mentions that it’s far too easy for plagiarism to proliferate if not careful. “You know where your inspiration comes from; whether or not you want to recognise it. It’s just f***** up if you try to steal someone else’s idea and play it off as your own. And I think also being ‘inspired by’ is a very loose term these days. You should always give credit where credit’s due.”
We agreed that the modern mechanism of the industry has apparently changed. Fashion week shows are lined with a myriad of folks raising their phones to the sky while influencers and bloggers have taken over as style authorities. However, Tong does believe there is one thing that has remained consistent over time and will: the product, something he believes heritage brands have been sustaining through this new landscape and that will continue to establish them as iconic.
A post shared by fan page of Eugene Tong (@fanpageofeugenetong) on Feb 21, 2018 at 6:25pm PST
A post shared by fan page of Eugene Tong (@fanpageofeugenetong) on Apr 5, 2018 at 8:38pm PDT
I think for a brand like Levi’s, bottom line is that it comes down to the product.
Cuts may change here and there, but you are confident that they know what they are doing. They took the time to really create and hone in on their product. They are iconic. But to become iconic, it’s about developing a genuine point of view and authentic style, as well.
Finally, he explains that though he may have his gripes, he is a user of the tool and thinks it’s “a peephole into other vibes and great for research, but it can also cloud your own point of view.” Something he says neophytes in the industry should be wary of is developing towering hopes and envy. “There’s only one Supreme. Yes, be inspirational, but also still be okay with your status. There are more successful stylists/consultants, but I’m happy and I’m proud of the work that I do.”
This story originally appeared on HYPEBEAST.