Philadelphia has always been known as a premiere city for politics, history, music and community. Now it can add up-and-coming fashion site to its resume.
Earlier this month, Rock & Soul Apparel, the enterprising fashion label of designer and graphic artist Tyrese S. Thomas, emerged onto the Philadelphia scene with the Self Authentication line, an eclectic collection of vintage t-shirts.
The plethora of attendees played to the strengths of Rock & Soul Apparel–diversity and individuality. From rockers to hip-hopers, families, media personnel and a variety of other supporters, the historic Perelman Quadrangle welcomed the mixed community of Philadelphia with open arms and a ton of rock and soul.
Traditionally dark and gloomy, the stateliness of Houston Hall’s Flag Room was not diminished, but enhanced by the colorful and lively atmosphere of Rock & Soul. Thomas commanded attention as he previewed the Self Authentication line as one of color and edge, just one part of the entirely diverse company he so desires to create.
Celebrity stylist to models and artists alike, Charles Gregory took the role of master of ceremonies welcoming Philadelphia’s own UCity, who performed a genuine set that was more than crowd pleasing, but explosive. Laying down R&B vocals over a classic/punk rock track very much expressed the idea of diversity that drives Rock & Soul Apparel. UCity was just the little extra needed to truly hype up the crowd and create the most appropriate air of suspense.
I love fashion, Gregory proclaimed. And after tonight, you will too.
With that being said, the spotlights were in place and energy comparable to a sold out concert blew down the runway in the form of the Self Authentication vintage t-shirt collection.
Conceived in 2006 and created in 2007, Rock & Soul Apparel has the ability to be so simple and yet so intricate. Taking a plain t-shirt and making it sing is a talent that few have. Tyrese S. Thomas is one of them. With his endless experience and business savvy, Thomas can make anyone eager to buy 50 of every shirt for two reasons: the products speak a genuine message and as a consumer, one can tell that those messages are wholly believed by the designer.
Say all you want about a t-shirt, but these holler out from the cotton. The clothes of Rock & Soul Apparel draw you in and make you want to be a part of such greatness. They reproduce not only images, but the feelings that accompany them. From a pale blue v-neck with markings that resemble tattoos to a baby pink scoop neck with purple butterflies soaring out of the mind like creative thoughts, Self Authentication is a line full of passion and intellect.
Thomas takes chances with his color patterns and it is easy to at least hypothesize about what he was aiming at with each piece. Boldness with red on orange. Contrast with red on teal. Shock with yellow on blue. Of course, much of this comes from Thomas and his brilliant imagination. But the end results also come from the world in which he lives–one of varied people and ideas that push life to the limits, confronting new frontiers around every corner.
After giving him a few days to recover from his ground-breaking launch, Campus Philly sat down with Tyrese S. Thomas to gain his perspective on the fashion industry, life in Philadelphia, and the future of his beloved Rock & Soul.
Campus Philly: What started your love affair with fashion?
Tyrese Thomas: I started out as a graphic artist and one day I started thinking about where I would take these images next. Why not put them on shirts. But I’ve always had an interest in fashion and loved every bit about it. And then Rock & Soul just dropped out of nowhere. But that love of fashion was always there. Always.
CP: You always acknowledge your family, especially your grandmother, for their love and support. What special gifts or advice did they give you to reach your dreams?
TT: My grandmother is my icon. She is my source. If I were to have a board of directors, she would be on that board. She is THE advisory board. She’s a very strong woman and educated. She knows her stuff. Her thing was, If you’re going to do it, do it right. Handle your business and know what your focus is. Have integrity, don’t play games and don’t treat this as a hobby. It’s a job.
CP: Your label is called Rock & Soul. Who are the bands or artists that inspired all this?
TT: Lenny Kravitz, Erika Badu, Pink, Kelly Clarkson, The Roots, Common, Jill Scott–that whole genre, they really, really, really move me.
CP: Were any specific pieces devoted to or inspired by them?
TT: No, not specific pieces. It’s more of a compellation. All their music contributed to all the pieces.
CP: Do you listen to any of them while you are designing?
TT: Very rarely do I listen to music while I’m designing. I’m in total silence. Maybe the TV will be on, but I like to focus on what I’m designing.
CP: Did these artists contribute anything to the music you have playing at your shows?
TT: You can definitely hear their influence in the music I play at my shows. When I was telling Jermaine Roach and Maine Design Music what feel I wanted for the show, I was very specific in what sounds I wanted and that was all he needed to come up with a sound that was perfect.
CP: You’re based out of Philly. When Rock & Soul makes it big and hits the mainstream, will you still operate out of Philly or will you abandon us for the bigger and better in New York City or Los Angeles?
TT: Because I’m from Philadelphia, I’m going to stay in Philadelphia. I’m a family and want to stay close to my mother and my grandmother. But this is not a Philadelphia company. I formally launched in Philly because I believe in staying true to my roots, but I have no intention of keeping Rock & Soul strictly local. I definitely want to branch out, because there’s so much more out there. I will always proclaim my roots. I’m from Philly, even if I’m in London.
CP: So you do see this label going international as well?
TT: I think I’m going to take a trip to London next year and hopefully Japan the year after. The diversity is crazy in London.
CP: Why did you decide to launch now, at this time?
TT: I took a step on faith. You never know what you’re capable of doing until you do it. I’ve always been the man to create things for others and make it work because I’m faithful like that. And now I’ve created something for me. This is really a blessing. Designing and creating this collection taught me how to work outside of a culture that I’m used to, what’s the norm to me. Now that I’m out, I don’t want to go back. Was the timing right? Yes. In bad times, people need something to cling onto because we’re emotional beings. Why not make something to cling onto then. But I couldn’t do this if I didn’t know anything about business. I read an article that talked about companies who start in a recession coming up successful. I’m very grateful that I have a business mind. But I’m still learning.
CP: You officially launched the Rock & Soul Apparel label on June 7 at Penn. What was so appealing about that venue?
TT: My thought was let’s bring something edgy to a prestigious place. It’s a beautiful location, very posh. And here I come with this loud music and crazy people. A dichotomy is what I wanted because you wouldn’t put the two together. If you think about a show at Penn you think preppy or high-end. I wanted to give the people something to think about. If i
t was too over the top, it would take away from what I wanted to convey. But the lighting, the atmosphere, everything forced you to have to pay attention to Rock & Soul; not the building. I wanted to bring that whole theatrical aspect to the show.
CP: How did you come to have UCity perform?
TT: One of my models is my friend Joshua. We went to school together and he’s also part of UCity. I love them. I believe in them and I wanted them a part of the Rock & Soul movement.
CP: You had Charles Gregory host your launch show. Should we look for any more famous people who are representing Rock & Soul?
TT: We’re working on it. We had the launch, and now it’s all about what happens after the show. And that’s positioning. We’re working on building up an online community so you can purchase the shirts online. We’re campaigning for the label a lot. We’re also looking into maybe giving away some complimentary items to let’s say artists who want to wear the shirts onstage to get Rock & Soul out there.
CP: The Self Authentication line is, as you said, all about color and edge. Can we see anything like black and white or earth tones in the future?
TT: Every collection needs to make a statement and bold color is definitely the signature of the line. I’ve already started working on the next line, but color is going to be pretty much it. But you will see some black and white because it will be what pulls you in.
CP: I loved the outfits that were put together for the runway. Were they handpicked to go with the shirts or were they the models own clothes?
TT: Priscilla Bowens, who has her own line coming out August 15, was the stylist on the launch and we handpicked everything. I wanted a certain look and I think we worked very well together and brought it together well. I didn’t want a regular look. I wanted something that was a little crazy but subtle. Or rather, something you can see someone wearing wherever you go. Christina Tavares did the make-up and for that I was looking overall for cleanliness, the natural look. With some collections the make-up is it. And you might see that in the next line. But for Self Authentication I just wanted it pretty simple.
CP: Are you looking to branch out from t-shirts to other apparel?
TT: My goal is to brand Rock & Soul. I am infatuated with branding. So it’s definitely going beyond t-shirts. I am open to all sorts of possibilities. Of course they’ll all connect to each other. You may see in the beginning of 2009 a few pieces for preview purposes.
CP: Can you give us a sneak peek into what the next line will be like?
TT: The shirts in the line are really going to say something–literally. They’re really going to talk, be really clear and pull your mind. I want to make people think, Wow, this is crazy. I want you to walk down the street in one of these shirts and have people stop and say, Wait…what is that?! You’re going to see more color. You’re going to see more consistency. The line is going to be really engaging, fun, sexy, laid-back, I’m buying 50 of those.
CP: Everything about Rock & Soul screams diversity: the name, the models, the music, the designs and even you. What got you so passionate about this idea of diversity?
TT: I love people. I love the combination of people. I never just wanted to know just my own culture. It started out in high school for me. I went to a very diverse high school and that’s when I started to think, ‘Oh, this is how it is.’ From then on, I’ve always wanted to expand my world. So when I started Rock & Soul, I knew immediately that it had to be diverse. It wouldn’t make sense to exclude any culture from the Rock & Soul culture because we live in Rock & Soul everyday. It’s not just clothing. It’s a habit. You can go anywhere and see individuals who live that Rock & Soul culture. Rock & Soul starts as a feeling and then it kind of shines out and that is what I wanted to capitalize on.
CP: Do you think diversity needs to be increased and improved in the fashion world?
TT: Absolutely. The fashion industry just needs to get away from this idea of just catering to on set type of person, one set individual. Diversity is in. Diversity is the new trend. Even the major organizations are understanding that now. It unifies. As long as God allows me to be a part of the institution of fashion, I’m always going to make a statement about diversity.
CP: When can we expect the next Rock & Soul event?
TT: We’re looking at the beginning of 2009 to be the next major show. I’m really trying to think about what happens next. It’s all about pushing product now so I have to multitask between that and designing. I can’t get all stuck up in the moment. I started designing the next line a month ago. I’ve got to keep moving. I know on the 29th of June at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Rock & Soul will be present at a fashion convention with M.M.M. Model Management which is one of the best modeling organizations ever, definitely in Philadelphia. We’ve got a major fashion show going on and I’ll be giving a presentation as well. And I think we might have one more show after that before we go away until 2009.
You can contact Cara Donaldson at firstname.lastname@example.org