Recently I had the opportunity to tour Tommy Bahama’s design studios in Seattle with Bradley O’Brien - the EVP of Product Design and Development - to learn about how art becomes part of the brand’s iconic fabric designs. The light and airy design workspace feels lush - as well-tended houseplants punctuate every unused surface. “Nobody has an art department like this,” says O’Brien. Artists are tinkering with designs at various tables using paint, ink, or computer, and one can see the tropical designs come alive.
Each season sees the brand’s design and development team select a destination to embody that season’s product line. Ibiza, Capri, Uruguay, and the South of France are all past selections, and it’s easy to see the influence of these locales on past releases that adorn the walls. In-house fine and graphic artists draw inspiration from textiles collected abroad, flora, fauna, global art, and the jam-packed Tommy Bahama archives: garments, and fabric samples from seasons past.
Often the brand will work directly with artists, like Alexandra Penney, Beppe Spadacini (the “king of the tropicals,” O’Brien tells me), and Justin W. Cox who created the stylized marlin adorning several of this year’s pieces. Cox has worked with fashion brands before - his parents owned a retail store and he grew up in that world. He developed his artistic talent by trying different methods, “messing around with paint, looking for an outlet,” he says. He took to acrylic paint because he can create pieces quickly, and the colors smear together in a desirable way.
After honing his skills, Cox posted some of his work on social media and people responded positively. He’d previously worked with Tommy Bahama’s SVP of Men’s Design, Dawn Brandl in the ‘90’s, and the two reconnected virtually which led to the brand partnership. “Tommy Bahama’s quality and attention to detail are incredible,” Cox says. “They took my work and helped it come to life.”