The Thomas Wylde bones collector
The Grateful Dead skull has gotten a makeover.
You may not have heard of Thomas Wylde yet, but you've seen the edgy
wares on every fashionable starlet from Lindsay Lohan to Sienna Miller.
Lohan's black-and-white skull-studded silk Thomas Wylde scarf has
become a signature fashion piece, and Miller rocks her lambskin slouch
bag with a to-die-for crystal-studded skull motif in nearly every
Not since Chrome Hearts has a rock 'n' roll collection come along
that is so on the money. Maxfield in L.A. has sold out of the bags.
Barneys can't keep the collection in stock. Linda Dresner sold out of
the spring ready-to-wear collection in two days.
During Fashion Week, top editors and buyers flocked to a tiny
Meatpacking District studio just to get a quick glimpse of the fall
collection, which was on display for just a few days.
Here's the catch: There is no Thomas Wylde. The label is the
brainchild of British designer Paula Thomas, a former actress and
Playboy model who was CEO of top British fashion designer Julien
MacDonald's company for five years, until MacDonald went to Givenchy in
After working with Milanese designer Stefano Guerriero for two
seasons, Thomas moved to L.A. in 2003 and worked with designer Jenni
Kayne on conceptualizing her collection.
But the native of Britain's Birmingham got tired of being in other
designers' shadows. She started her own line inspired by funky graphic
skulls with sunglasses that she designed on the computer.
"I got to the point where I was a shadow designer for so long for so
many people that I wanted to do it myself," says the spunky,
40-year-old blonde. The label is named for her Welsh grandfather Robert
Thomas and her great-grandmother Catherine Wylde.
After so many years in the business, Thomas knew all the best
buyers. She also enlisted the financial help of Houston socialite
She now sells a limited quantity of her line to upscale boutiques
worldwide, like Barneys New York, L'Eclaireur in Paris, Harvey Nichols
in Hong Kong and Browns in London. That "limited" has created a huge
"It's mad," says Thomas. "If people really want to get a bag, they could probably get one in Paris .. ."
During Fashion Week, Thomas expanded on her bags and scarves,
debuting a fall collection of studded leather pants and jackets, tweed
pencil skirts, skinny-leg trousers, funky T-shirts, cool chiffon tops
and feminine dresses (ranging from $220 to $2,200) in colors like
purple, powder blue, slate and licorice.
The line is not only bigger - it's badder: A pair of sky-high
leather boots with studded Swarovski crystals spells out a profanity.
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen have already placed an order for the black, skull-studded leather pants.
"They told me they never wear leather pants, but then when they tried on mine, they said, 'Now we do,'" says Thomas.
In the fall line, new graphic prints like "Winter Lily," "Art Deco
Flower" and Georgia O'Keeffe-inspired "Cow Skull" designs graced
floor-length dresses. The iconic skull motif appeared in skirts,
sweaters, scarves and neckties.
The demand has buyers and editors going nutty.
"I haven't felt this excited about a line in a really long time,"
says Carrie Chapman, accessories buyer at Barneys. "They are my
For fall, Barneys already has 30 people on the waiting list for her slouch bags, which retail for $1,975.
"It's very specific and unique, and people are always looking for
something different and personal and exciting," says Chapman. "It's
rock 'n' roll edgy, but also sophisticated."
Chapman adores the personal touches on each Thomas Wylde accessory,
like a dangling silver cross or a little skull at the end of the zipper
"I think she [Paula] is more of an artist than a designer, and it
comes through in the bags," says Chapman. "I'm putting myself on the
In an article about "The New Goth" trend for Elle magazine, fashion
writer Nina Garcia touted Thomas Wylde as "the new label" and put
Thomas in the same rank as staple skull-print clothiers like Chrome
Douglas Chen, a buyer at Linda Dresner, wasn't surprised when this
year's spring collection sold out in two days. "It's not new to see
skulls on clothes, but this is the first time it's been done on
feminine wear," he says.
"The line speaks to the inner rebel in a lot of women, but in a very
approachable and feminine way - it's about being bad without really
Eventually, Thomas hopes to expand Thomas Wylde into a lifestyle
brand, with boutiques and hotels designed to exude her sexy rocker edge.
"These prints can be taken over into a lifestyle concept," she says.
"I love fashion and I love to design it, but I have to go on and do
things that relate to it."