The Business of Fashion‘s ongoing series “The Business of Blogging” turns its focus to one of the fashion photography world’s most exciting and captivating personalities. Emerging from the suburbs of Toronto, Tommy Ton has developed his own unique identity for capturing the details and candids that make fashion such a visually interesting part of culture. His website Jak & Jil as well as his numerous gigs globally has augmented the profile of the photographer immensely. The Business of Blogging touch upon Ton’s past and rise through the ranks of Canadian fashion thanks to his stints with Holt Renfrew. As is the nature of The Business of Fashion, Ton opens up about his rates and his sources of income with singular photos fetching between $100-$2,000 USD. Excerpts of the article can be seen below with the full version seen here.
PARIS, France — “It was the summer of 1997 and I was 13 years old,” recalls Tommy Ton, now 27, describing the moment when a self-professed comic book nerd from the suburbs of Toronto first became interested in fashion. “My sister asked me to record Fashion Television and all of a sudden Tom Ford comes on and talks about women, and his idea of sex. He was so eloquent in his choice of words. It was love at first sight.”
From that moment, Mr. Ton embarked on what has been described as a something of a fairytale, becoming the world’s most influential street style fashion photographer today. But achieving such success is rarely that simple — or easy.
More than just a skilled photographer with a good eye and encyclopedic knowledge of fashion, Ton has proven himself to be a savvy digital operator with a potent mixture of ambition, work ethic and strategic thinking that has enabled him to discover and hone in on his special talent. His humility throughout it all has endeared him not only to the stylish women he has made famous, but also to fellow fashion bloggers and his growing list of paying clients.
Yes, Tommy Ton is building a business, and he’s proud of it.
At first, Mr. Ton says he simply became infatuated with fashion. “I’d bike to the library, tear out ad campaigns, and make collages of Gucci and Versace,” he explains over dinner during Paris Fashion Week. At age 15, he interned with the Toronto designer Wayne Clark and then in the women’s accessories department of Holt Renfrew, Canada’s leading luxury department store.
From the beginning, Ton has been a fervent but charming networker, not afraid to approach and build relationships with the industry’s top players. “I made an effort so Barbara Atkin knew who I was,” he says, referring to the Holt Renfrew’s highly-respected fashion director. This ultimately landed him a gig in the store’s buying office, furthering his understanding of the fashion business, but still not quite sating his fashion appetite.
“I was there in the Summer of 2004 when web magazines first started popping up,” he says. Ton started taking classes in digital photography and met with friends who did graphic design, before deciding to start Jak & Jil, which was initially conceived in 2005 as a lifestyle website focused on the product and people in Toronto.
“Then my guardian angel came along,” says Ton, referring to Lynda Latner, proprietor of vintagecouture.com. “She hired me because she saw my site and thought I could help her.”
In 2007 when Latner offered to send Ton to Europe to attend the shows in London and Paris, he had his first opportunity to experiment with street photography during fashion week, a trend which was just beginning to take off due to the pioneering work of Scott Schuman and Garance Doré.
“My first show in Paris was Balmain. I had no idea what Balmain was at the time, or what it was going to be, but all the girls were in that that show, like Daria, Irina, and Anja, and they played the Cure on the soundtrack. As soon as that show was done, it was raining outside…and I was dancing in the rain. I just felt so uplifted. I could not believe what fashion could do for you,” recalls Ton nostalgically. “To have that moment in Paris, at your very first show…it was magical.”
Using his “Canadian connections,” Ton also managed to get into Chanel, YSL, Dries van Noten and Rick Owens that first season. But in all the excitement, Ton says he didn’t know who or what to shoot. “I just shot what I thought was visually amazing. I didn’t know who Emmanuelle Alt was, or Kate Lanphear or even Anna Dello Russo.”