29 Mar 2017

Creating a career in the Big Apple

From My Heels Are Killing Me, 8:00 am on 29 March 2017

Strong creative vision, perseverance and a down-to-earth personality are qualities that have helped stylist and creative consultant, Jonathan Thai, make a high profile career in fashion. Not here in New Zealand, but New York.

Jonathan Thai talks to Sonia Sly for the return season of RNZ’s fashion podcast, My Heels Are Killing Me.

Jonathan has worked across NYFW including this Fall 13 collection for Proenza Schouler.

Jonathan has worked across NYFW including this Fall 13 collection for Proenza Schouler. Photo: Eli Shmidt

Jonathan moved to the United States 11 years ago to pursue a dance career, but when he injured himself while auditioning for a Janet Jackson video his plan was turned on its head.

Not one to sit down and let opportunities slip by, he turned to his second love, fashion.

One job assisting on a fashion film led to another and now the 28-year-old's impressive catalogue of work includes styling editorial shoots for US, British, French and German Vogue, Elle, Glamour and W Magazine. He has also worked closely with photographers Steven Meisel and Craig McDean.

Jonathan has produced New York Fashion Week shows for designers Helmut Lang, Thakoon, Victoria Beckham and Proenza Schouler, among others, and has clocked up a list of celebrity clients such as Lady Gaga and Winona Ryder.

“She was inquisitive”, he says of of the Stranger Things star.

"She just looks at up at you with those big chocolatey brown eyes. She's just so...weird and that’s what I love about her.”

Jonathan back stage for Suno Spring 2016 (September 2015 at NYFW)

Jonathan back stage for Suno Spring 2016 (September 2015 at NYFW) Photo: Eli Shmidt

Now, due to the pull of family and a definitive change in the US political climate, which he says affects the fashion industry, Jonathan is back in New Zealand. 

“Fashion is a very artistic and creative expression and as artists we should exercise our right to voice our opinions,” he says, adding that staff in the office he was working in before he left were in tears when Donald Trump was elected.

“I was looking at coverage of the New York Fashion Week and there were so many designers that were resisting President Trump [so] it is quite interesting to see who’s in opposition and who’s just not saying anything at all, and I think that says a lot about the industry too.

“I’m just waiting for more of the fashion community to be able to step up, but at the same time they do rely on people buying their design.”

Jonathan worked on the Opening Ceremony S16 show that sent dancers falling down the runway.

Jonathan worked on the Opening Ceremony S16 show that sent dancers falling down the runway. Photo: Drew Anthony Smith for The New York Times.

Jonathan says there are plenty of opportunities to embrace in the fashion industry here in New Zealand and that our warm, friendly nature and give-it-a-go attitude are a great asset when it comes to the potential of collaborating on international projects.

He still gets calls for jobs in New York and he doesn’t take for granted the incredible opportunities that have been given to him by people in the industry who believed in his vision.

“I did this and it is a testament to who I am, how hard I work and how much I care about a lot of the industry as well.

“At the same time, I just felt so appreciated and really thankful that I was there because [they] could have picked anyone but [they] managed to pick me and there was a reason for that. So that’s what I can be proud of, especially as a Kiwi as well.”