A Fitting with
Tommy Nguyen of Store204
Toronto, Canada: where
11 mins: read time
When I first met Tommy about a year ago, he was wearing Versace frames. They were a staple part of his face then. He pulls a box of frames out of his suitcase. He unsnaps the cover and lays a tray of frames on the table. He places a second beside it, and a third, until the suitcase has been unpacked. Each pair of glasses is protected in its own, tiny baggy. Every time I have been to a fitting with Tommy, I see the reflection of his collectors’ sparkling eyes in the mirror. The collector pulls maybe ten pairs aside – the ones they feel most special in. I can almost hear them asking, “Who do I want to portray?” I see the sparkle in their eyes as they discover their new, iconic style. They try on all the pairs again, taking selfies. Slowly, they cut their selection down and let pairs go – one at a time, hesitant, until the pairs they’ve chosen have been narrowed down. Now, they are left with one (or two) that couldn’t be anything but perfect. It’s as though the “chosen pair” existed in Tommy’s collection just for them. And Tommy is so good at what he does – at knowing style – that it might just be true.
Tommy is the vintage frames specialist behind Toronto brand Store204 where he has been fitting collectors – Drake being among the most notable – in deadstock vintage frames for a couple of years now. Getting into a pair of glasses with Tommy is about 10% what you see on his Instagram (story) and 90% behind-the-scenes work. He is the sole curator for Store204, travelling and connecting with other collectors and sources to find vintage frames. He looks for features and quality-makes that are unique when compared against any pair you would find on the shelf elsewhere. Before meeting a client, he curates a selection from his entire collection. The frames are tried in a one-on-one fitting. He stocks brands like Cartier, Jean-Paul Gautier and Matsuda – frames that were designed and built in the 80’s and 90’s. The shapes all boast something special. Perhaps they have embossed edges, small mechanical springs, or coatings of 24k gold. Often, Tommy works with the frames and choice aesthetic to pick a tinted Japanese or Italian Lens. Each pair comes in a Store204 hard-case with a cloth and the cleo spray that Tommy worked to create – a chemical blend that offers a streak-free clean.
He stands at the table beside me. “Do you want to start the interview?” he asks. He is wheeling the light mirror across the studio and bringing it over to create a setup for a fitting he has later on. He sprays Windex onto the mirror and wipes it down perfectly. He is a friend so, for a moment, I had even forgotten about the interview. I was thinking of catching up, about hearing some of what Tommy has no doubt been sharing on his Insta-story that I might have missed out on. Right. It’s something when your interviewee is more focused than you are. That is part of the way Tommy is. I’ve never really thought about it until now, but there is something so calm and focused about him. Almost Zen-like, I hear it in his voice when I play back the audio of our conversation. Anyway, I was finally able to tear my focus away from the frames he was laying out on the table. Now, it was time for me to ask him about his journey and experience with vintage, and his start in providing frames here is what he let me know.
What was the first vintage object you can remember finding?
It’s been so long and there have been so many things. Most likely, the first thing I found was clothing. I was getting into vintage clothing or some type of hand-made item. Just something I thought was interesting.
Of all your pieces you have collected, is there anything that you have held onto for many years because it was extra-special to you?
This bracelet that I’m wearing. It’s a bangle with elephant heads on it. I found it picking and I haven’t really taken it off since. I like it because of what it means to me. Some pieces of jewellery serve as protection and a good omen. To me, this is a good omen. The day that I found it, somebody else put it on me. I didn’t know how to put it on myself. I thought it was too small and it didn’t fit. Then, a friend I had run into said, “no, look” and he pried it open and said, “let me see your wrist.” Then, he put it on and clamped it for me and I realized that’s how you open it – it fits.
It’s a perfect fit.
Yeah. So, I say it is my favourite thing I’ve found.
*It’s worth noting here that the bracelet which I have never seen Tommy without is a perfect matte-gold match to the Matsuda frames he has been rocking. A subtle detail that could be overlooked as coincidence, but that feels so in-line on him.*
How long have you been interested in sourcing vintage items?
I have always had an attention to detail in general, so I’ve had an appreciation for things that are hand-made or well designed. I always liked to be in style. When I go searching for clothes, the first thing I look for is quality: material and how it’s made, by what brand, or in what country. Then, looking at the cut and function.
Where do you find influence for your style? What influences your personal style and, also, what guides you to realizing something is cool when picking out vintage items?
Growing up, my style came from my older cousins and stuff. They would be into hip hop – with Polo, Tommy Hilfiger, and Calvin Klein. Those were the things I never grew up having. I remember being a kid and not 'thrifting,' but going to the thrift shop with my mom. That was where we would get our clothes because we weren’t that well-off. I remember going to my school and everyone at my school was also not well-off. So, everyone would get logos and sew them onto their shirts and their pants. The few times I did have something brand name like Nike or Adidas the other kids would be like, “Yo, that’s cool! It’s Nike!” Like, it’s branded. It was a big deal. It’s not just a pair of shoes – they were Adidas. Since then, I have always been into sports brands. Also, me really liking hip hop and R&B. Watching the music videos I really liked, their style, and how it would turn into street-wear.
A lot of skate and hip-hop influence in general, with hoodies and super-fat tongues on your shoes. Coming to Toronto, I still had that super-baggy look. Everyone is so fresh out here. With that influence and growing up, I moved to a more fitted style. But it’s all really a mashup. Even graphic t-shirts and restaurant t-shirts from restaurants that I like – I’ll represent for them. I just pick what I like. I have an open-minded aesthetic to things. Style is transformed by how you wear things, mixing and matching items that no one would ever think goes together may sometimes work. From wearing a hat backwards to slinging a hooded sweatshirt across the body. It's all an extension of fashion, function, and confidence.
I feel like you do have your style. Every time I see you, I always think: “Tommy is Tommy.”
Yeah, I have always liked stuff that people don’t have or more rare pieces that are appreciated by connoisseurs. I look at style in general and see what’s trending, then I will do the opposite of it. I would rather not look like everyone or be in trend. Following trends is dope. Setting trends is an experiment. Right now, I have taken a lot of my clothes and put them away. I am keeping it basic. Living minimal with less clutter is working.
So what brought you into the specific industry of vintage frames?
Frame collecting came about while I was antique-hunting and I would come across some really cool pairs that I thought would suit me. So, I was collecting glasses for myself, along with everything else – like books, antiques and statues, and clothing. They became part of the collection of my personal character.
Providing glasses started when I had a bunch of pairs and I brought them to a photo shoot for my twenty-seventh birthday. As a styling piece, I wanted to use my glasses collection that I had. We didn’t end up using too many of the images that featured the glasses. But having the glasses on me that day, I remember wanting to show people. Like, “Hey this is my collection – check it out”. So, my friends were looking over the collection and trying them on. One friend tried on a pair and said it was something he had been looking for and for a long time. It was one of those moments form him, like, "you aren’t going home with these". He’s a good friend of mine and, during that time, I had collected so many antique pieces. I realized I couldn’t hoard them. At that time, I started to look at my life as a whole and think that, instead of keeping it all for myself, it’s better to start letting everything go. After wearing his frames, he ended up liking them so much that he only takes them out on special occasions. It made me realize how much more someone else could appreciate certain items. As much as I love the objects, I can’t appreciate everything as much as someone can appreciate the one pair of glasses.
Before, you were saying books are something important you collect. When you pick one, what gets you to judge a book by it’s cover?
I get interested in the typography. I don’t look at the cover too much. I get inspired by photographs. So, I look for iconic images or photography that I can be stimulated by – the ones with emotion that say a thousand words.
Do you ever rip the pictures out of your books?
No, but I have always had the idea to cut them out and put them into frames. To take every picture I really like and put them in frames.
Now I have a few questions that I wanted to ask you that we have been asking everyone. Our BORN SOLO DIE SOLO Standard Interview.
The first one: What time is it?
For me, I think I am in my prime. Well, not in my prime but at a point where I have the most energy and a clear mind. So, kind of in my prime. I have no idea. I’m just living in the moment.
What place are you in?
I am in a very content mental space. I am really keeping myself grounded, thinking about the future of my journey and my passion.
What is making you feel right now?
The people around me. I always learn a bit from everybody. Through a small conversation, you can pick up things and get inspired by anything, really. I always quote, “I've already forgotten more than you can remember.”
What do you treasure?
I treasure friends and family. All the people who are here right now. Secondly I treasure my hustle and how I have the opportunity to do something I love.
Describe your favourite article of denim.
I want to say my jeans. I have these 3M reflective jeans by Naked and Famous. They are my favourite because I am a fan of 3M, but I just like denim in general. You can wear it down. I do have a pair I have worn for years that have distressed like no other jeans I have –and those are cool, but they are at the point where I can’t really wear them anymore without adding to the damaged areas. I could, but they are just constantly… any day, they could just rip on me, I've fixed them way too many times.
Something you like doing daily that gets you off.
What could humanity use more of?
Truth and laughter.
What is your favourite scene?
I think old people being in love. That’s my favourite scene. Like old an guy still holding his wife's hand and helping her up the stairs. It’s like “oh shit!” That’s real. That’s some real shit. And it exists. You can keep going as long as they do. I'm an old soul like that.
Have you any regrets?
I don't really regret anything. Learn and move on. Help and not hurt. Everybody can change.
After death what word will describe your life?
What do you think of the phrase “Live Alone Together?”
What I want to say is no one should really live alone. It should always be a community of people. You should always have a group of friends or your family that adds to your happiness.
Text by Alexis Venerus
Follow Tommy @Store204
Originally written for and published
on in 2017