DESIGNER INTERVIEW: Anthony Thomas Melillo

Monday, October 31, 2016

One of my favorite things to do as a fashion blogger is meet those that work in the industry.  Living in Houston, one would think these industry meet & greets wouldn't be all that common. After all, when people think of fashion, they typically think of New York, Los Angeles, or a major city in Europe.  Houston has come into their own as a fashion hub. Houston boasts a lot of local fashion designers, as as the 4th largest city in the U.S. designers are eager to bring their fashions to our city to sell. Luxury department stores like Neiman Marcus often bring in designers for personal appearances to meet their consumers.  

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to a fashion presentation and luncheon with ATM designer, Anthony Thomas Melillo.  Anthony, who also goes by Tony launched his namesake label in 2012 with a line of comfortable T-shirts that evolved to a full-blown collections over the years. His collections are of the minimalist aesthetic, but of the highest quality fabrics. A man or woman can feel chic and comfortable at the same time. I definitely had some favorite pieces from the presentation (see photos below). After the presentation, I was able to sit down with Tony and ask him a few questions about his career and his collection.  Check out the transcribed interview below:

Tell us about the name ATM! 
When I was 17, which was way, way back, I had this little tattoo of ATM done under my arm. It's my initials, Anthony Thomas Melillo. I trademarked it for some reason at 17 and when I went back years later to use the name I wandered if it would be an issue {in reference to A.T.M. Automated Teller machines.} Since I had it trademarked, I could use it for anything I wanted. When I first put the label on the brand, I was just doing T-shirts, and I felt just as passionate about just doing T-shirts as I do about whole collections. T-shirts to me were the base of a wardrobe so if I have a T-shirt on I'm still wearing Margiela shoes, a great pant, and a great blazer. Today the pants may be my own brand, and the blazer Lanvin, so the T-shirt had to fit into that same world of designer or contemporary. Developing all those T-shirts with the passion of making the best of the best was really my motto from day one.

I love the evolution of fashion to wear it is today where it's okay to mix high and low, but still have great quality on both sides.
That's what we find a lot. We have a customer that shops this floor and shops the designer floor.  And the designer floor customer is comfortable with ATM, they don't necessarily think it's so much cheaper, and that's why they like it they think oh this is the same quality as the shirt I bought at the ROW. Or this t-shirt has a great neckline that I can easily wear with my Chanel blazer. They feel comfortable with it because it relates in terms of quality.

You are very focused on fabric quality! Where did you learn about fabrics?
It started when I was an editor for magazines. When you're an editor for that many years you really learn quality. It wasn't something I always knew. I grew up in Pennsylvania, and quality was not on my mind in West Chester, Pennsylvania.  But with the magazine experience you learn "these things fit well". As an editor, you work more with designers than with contemporary brands. The magazines that I worked for were shooing full on designer brands most of the time.  You learn which ones fit well, which ones don't fit well, and which ones have great fabrics.  That gave me an intro into what fashion was all about and understanding quality. That helped me in the future.  Even working in the contemporary world, which is not at a designer price point, I knew that there was no reason for this world not to have the same kind of quality that the designer world had. 

Choosing quality fabrics is a built in thing that you do as the design team; not because the cost of  the fabric, but because it's something you know. Knowing, for me, didn't come from going to school but because I was constantly working with people, and they would say , "No the arms are too slim". Especially when I worked with celebrities. The last five years of my magazine life were with Esquire and I was in charge of the covers. There were just as many girls on the cover as men. They were so picky or particularly, that it really focused for me how fit and feel were so important when designing clothing.

I'm glad that you are paying attention to feel AND fit. I'm plus-size so I'm very particular about fit.  How things fit me affect the way that I look. I can make myself look smaller or accidentally bigger. It's really important!
Fabrics! That's how I think it works. If you have a fabric that's stiff, it's going to make you look stiff. If you have a fabric that drapes, it's going to drape you. No matter if it's me wearing it, a very skinny person wearing it, or a larger person wearing it, they need to have movement and they need to be comfortable and that comes with the fabric. It doesn't have to be 100% cashmere; it just has to be a nice draping fabric.

How many collections does your team complete a year?
We deliver 10 times a year.

Wow! How do you keep up with all of these collections?
I have a great team. It's not a big team, but a great team. I've worked with the same head design person for the last 25 years in all of the projects I've done. But really, you just do because it is what it is. You're on deadlines all the time. I'm on a deadline right now for the Fall 2017 collection and I'm like, "Again?!" Then there's the in between collections like Holiday and pre-Spring, pre-Fall and Summer, but you just do. It's like a system. You get used to it like everything you do in life.

Where do you find inspiration for all of the collections?
I always say the street, and not the street because I'm such a street person out there looking for street style, but because I see such little details when I'm riding my bike. I'll see how a woman's cuff fits, or how a woman's pant fits. I'll see how it drapes or how the length is perfect or not perfect. It's a very vague way of getting inspiration and it's definitely not about trends. It's more about what I think aesthetically works for bodies and people. My inspiration comes from seeing an idea and thinking, "It might be cool to do that type of sheer t-shirt, but how do we do it in a nicer fabric?" Overall, I see something very street and then take it back to what works for ATM and our world of relaxed elegance.

You mentioned riding around on your bike. Is that mostly in New York? Or does street style in other cities inspire you as well?
I'm everywhere in terms of travel. Right now, I'm here {in Houston}in the hotel last night checking in and I look over at someone. She's wearing a dress and it's gave me an idea that the look would be cool, but not modern with that length, so lets do it this way.  I call all this travel a luxury sometimes because it allows me to see so many different cultures within America. This is important because what works here {in Houston} at 92 degrees in October doesn't work in New York in December when it's below zero.  It allows me to understand, take both of those cultures and mix them together. I'll make transitional clothing, and things that are going to work everywhere. Our cashmere pieces are not that heavy that it will work in New York and Houston.

We do a lot of layering here. Right now, in Houston,we're all trying to push Fall clothes sweating to death! 
You could wear a little suede skirt with no stockings and a great shoe, with a T-shirt. You're still fashion forward and wearing something that's season related because it's suede and it's army green. It looks like you're wearing a Fall item with a khaki t-shirt and a short-sleeve but you're not wearing a tent-like cashmere sweater, with a suede skirt to the floor that you're going to be dying in.

Is this your first time in Houston? 
Nope! I've been here before.

How long has your collection been sold at Neiman Marcus?
Our collection has been with Neiman Marcus for 2 full years.

Congrats, on your time with Neiman. I love everything they sell here.   Thank you for your time Anthony! 

Enjoy the below photos from the presentation:

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