Desperately seeking: Tony Chambers on finding his 'thing'

Desperately seeking: Tony Chambers on finding his 'thing'
’THING’, in RCA design graduate Will Yates-Johnson’s Polyspolia, a plastic that can be repeatedly broken down and reformed into new objects
(Image credit: press)

For the January 2016 issue, our annual Graduate Directory, Team Wallpaper* has been in search of the next big thing. Me? I’ve just been in search of a ‘thing’.

I realised some years ago that anybody who is really successful – who has really made it – has a ‘thing’. I’m doing all right, but if I had a ‘thing’ I’d be big. I’d be someone. A ‘thing’ gets you noticed and remembered. ‘Do you know Tony Chambers, the editor of Wallpaper*?’ ‘I don’t think I do... oh, hang on, is he the xxx guy with the xxx? Yes, sure I know him.’

Being noticed and remembered seems to make you better. Think of Le Corbusier. He was a pretty good architect, but would he have been as successful without those black, thick-framed round spectacles? Richard Rogers has his brightly coloured collarless shirts. And John Pawson has his NOthing.

Why is Karl Lagerfeld a fashion god? It’s not just because he designs a great frock, it’s because he has about FIVE ‘things’. The greedy Kaiser has his powdered pony tail, his high-necked starched shirts, ever-present dark glasses and fingerless gloves, and his celebrity pussy, Choupette. 

Steve Jobs had his black polo-neck sweater and dad jeans – the low-key thing. While the Italian industrialist Gianni Agnelli always wore his wristwatch over his shirt cuff. A bling thing!

Successful magazine editors are definitely at it. Graydon Carter’s sweeping patrician hair, Anna Wintour’s bob, Suzy Menkes’ pompadour and Grace Coddington’s fiery red locks are their mane ‘things’. The follicly challenged have to take another tack. British GQ’s Dylan Jones resorted to wearing comically large shirt collars. It may look preposterous, but at least it’s his ‘thing’. He’s got a ‘thing’. I haven’t. Even our Bespoke art director Aneel, an attentive aesthete, has developed a personal way of wrapping his shoelaces behind his ankle. ‘It’s my thing,’ he answered proudly when quizzed by puzzled colleagues.

What could be my thing? Wearing a monocle? Nah – too old fogey. Always wear a single bright, block-coloured outfit? Nah – too Rashid. A hat? A cane? A polka-dot bow tie? Deerstalker and pipe? Braces and stogie? Pants outside my trousers? Not right!

I was about to give up when, lo and behold, I had a ‘thing’ bestowed upon me. During the summer I contracted vertigo – a bizarre inner ear condition resulting in room-spinning, nausea, loss of balance and deafness in my right ear. All rather unpleasant and irritating but at least I have my ‘thing’. ‘Tony Chambers? Oh, is he the wobbly guy with the ear trumpet who vomits involuntarily? He’s a legend!’