Fashion designer Tom Mark is the man behind the infamous Mark Wong Nark line. The line, named after his father who passed away 15 years ago, is responsible for clothing stars Tyra Banks, Cameron Diaz and Kim Kardashian. His line has appeared in music videos for Madonna, George Michel and Paula Abdul. Denise Richards dodged bullets while wearing his leggings in the James Bond movie "The World Is Not Enough."
Originally from Thailand, Tom moved to Los Angeles when he was seventeen. His older brother recognized Tom's raw talent and pushed him toward fashion school. Tom enrolled in FIDM and it was there that a designer was born.
We met at the Figaro Café on Vermont (a block from Tiziana Boutique where his line is sold). Dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, Tom's personal style is a lot like his personality -- humble. He doesn't speak of the starlets he's styled as icons, but instead like an old friend he hasn't seen in awhile.
AI: What's it like styling Kim Kardashian?
TM: I've known Kim since she was fourteen years old. She's the best self-promoter out there. She purchased ten of my dresses. One of them, a custom made dress, she wore to the unveiling of her Playboy Cover. She's also carried my line at Dash.
(Before I can ask my next question Tom interrupts, gushing like a school boy with a crush.)
TM: Khloe Kardashian is the most beautiful person on the planet, inside and out. She's a lot shyer than people realize.
AI: What was the first store to pick up your line?
TM: Neda Mashouf at Bebe. She said, "You will go far, not because of your great eye for fashion but for women's bodies." I never want my clothes to speak louder than the women that wear them.
AI: Who was the first celebrity you styled?
TM:Mariah Carey. I custom designed a dress for her. Her stylist Laura Jones named it Venus because Mariah looked like a goddess in it.
AI: What are some things you've noticed about fashion today?
TM: There are more young designers than ever before. They bring a fresh, inventive, trend forward style to the fashion industry. I respect that.
AI: How has the economy affected the fashion industry?
TM: Imports have really hurt American designers. I've definitely had to cut back. My staff works a four day work week instead of six. I've changed my designs to fit consumer's budgets.
AI: Where Can We Find Your Line?
TM: It's sold in boutiques Tiziana, Divine, Unica and Azura and will appear at Nordstrom in the fall.
AI: Why Do You Think Your Line Is So Popular Among Celebrities?
TM: My dresses are forgiving. They stretch to fit a woman's body just right, holding everything in place. My line is not trend forward, it's timeless. I use a lot of darts and seams to flatter a woman's figure.
AI: Who Inspires You?
TM: My mother, sister Lady Tipayawan, and best friend Marla Eposito. These women have shaped and molded me as a designer.
AI: What Fashion Advice Do You Have For Women?
TM: Don't buy clothes that look good on the hanger. Buy clothes that look good on you. When a woman wears one of my dresses I want her to be recognized, not for the dress, but for the confidence she exudes in the dress.
We finished our coffee and headed to Tiziana Boutique where Tom had me try on a few items from his collection. My favorites were the "Virgin Queen," a pink dress (also worn by Kim Kardashian) with black elastic straps, the "Seduce World," a fitting, red-hot cocktail dress with silk sash straps and a pair of "Blair" leggings (named after his son, Jay Blair -- a budding designer) that has zippers at the ankles.
As I hugged Tom goodbye, I left the store thinking about something Carmen Electra once said, "God created women and then Mark Wong Nark to dress them." After spending the afternoon with Tom, I couldn't help but think it was the other way around, God created Mark Wong Nark and then women to wear his designs.