At the recent DIEM design forum in West Hollywood, DnA sat down with Jonathan Skow, stylist, photographer, architecture enthusiast and husband of famed fashion designer Trina Turk. Jonathan (above) and Trina created Mr Turk, a “California dapper” men’s clothing line that brooks no fear of eye-popping colors and patterns. Following is an excerpt from that conversation, in which Frances Anderton learns how Mr Turk came into being and how the company’s social media presence seeks a balance between titillation and taste.
FA: How did Mr Turk come about?
JS: I shot Trina’s portfolio in college back around 1982, and we’ve been collaborating on a lot of other things since then. When we opened our first shop in Palms Springs in 2002, we noticed there were a lot of guys in there. They were all saying ‘Hey, isn’t there anything for us?’ So we thought, we have all these prints, why don’t we cut some shorts, we’ll cut some swimsuits, we’ll have a little Mr Turks section.
So we started this Trina Turk mens section, and it was a big success from the start. It’s been almost three years now that we started the line Mr Turk and now we have a line that has seven deliveries a year. And for spring 2014 we started wholesaling our line, so it’s soon going to be available in a store near you.
FA: Are you or Trina designing the collection?
JS: I design the collection. Trina’s putting in her two cents here, but she’s a busy girl.
FA: There’s a lot of tailoring that goes into making a men’s suit. Do you have that in your training as well?
JS: Trina and I met in design school. I was an aspiring clothing designer. Somehow I had this moment of responsibility and changed to a degree in business. But my first two years in college I was a fashion design major.
And for 14 years I was a wardrobe stylist here in California in LA. So I was shopping and designing clothes for commercials, so I know about clothes. I learned how to work a camera, but the clothes were why I wanted to be a photographer, because I wanted to take pictures of clothes.
FA: Have you tailored Mr Turk clothes to the Palm Springs market?
Yes we’ve definitely tailored the clothes to the Palm Springs market. Right now I would say probably 70 percent of everything we sell of Mr Turk is through our Palms Springs store. And what sells in Palm Springs is really specific. We had this blazer that was kind of brocade and it came in lime green and it came in navy, and the girl who does the buying at our store was like, oh we’ll sell more navy jackets than the lime green.
So she bought three times more navy than the green, and we sold out of the green in something like four days, and I think that at one point we didn’t sell a single navy jacket!
Palm Springs is a very accepting place if you want to wear tangerine orange.
JS: Social media was something that neither Trina nor I were in any way interested in. We were never on Facebook, we never were on Twitter, we never were on anything, we kinda thought, why would we want to do that? And then Instagram came along, and I became wildly addicted to it. I would post pictures from our shoots, from architecture, you know like most people do on Instagram.
But because my life happens to be a little more visual, and I am a photographer, I think my feed was a cut above the rest and I was gaining followers slowly. So then I started a Trina Turk Instagram account, and because of her name is more famous hers started gaining followers really quickly without trying very hard and we started to really realize that we could actually put something on Instagram and sell it.
We have a limited marketing budget for Trina Turk, and pretty much a zero marketing budget for Mr Turk so I thought, well let’s try to be more strategic about it, and I joined Facebook, and joined Twitter, and Tumblr.
So we started doing these different social medias, and the big turning point was when Dan Savage posted this picture of his husband Terry Miller in one of Mr Turk’s swimsuits (above). I reposted it, and the Instagram went crazy and we basically sold out of this swimsuit; literally, it was a neon pink and gray-striped swimsuit, and we sold them all, so it was obvious that we were on to something.
But the thing that is troubling – I’m not sure if that is the right word — as a photographer and having worked on Trina’s brand image for all these years is that you have this idea of fashion and what is tasteful, and what is elegant and sophisticated. And then all of a sudden you have this blonde gym boy in a barely-there swimsuit kind of smirking to the camera, and it’s not what you’re expecting to see in GQ. So there is this tension between how far to go and where do you stop. I mean, everyone I meet loves it, but it’s a question in my head all of the time: what in the end could not be good for the brand?
See Mr Turk’s Holiday collection here. And follow the line at: Instagram/twitter: @mrturk
See more images from DIEM, here.
Images, clockwise from top: Jonathan Skow at DIEM, photographed by thelookpartnership.com; above left, Felix Bujo with LA Models models Mr Turk plaid suit, photographed by Jonathan Skow; Jonathan Skow in an Instagram post; the Mr Turk Holiday 2013 collection; Terry Miller photographed by Dan Savage; Terence Telle with IMG models striped Mr Turk pants, photographed by Jonathan Skow.