June 27, 2021By his own admission, Tony Tiemeyer, proprietor of vintage clothing treasure trove Evolution, is an unconventional follower of fashion. “I have sixty acres of land here in Cincinnati, so I’m usually on a tractor or planting peonies,” he says. “I’m like a farmer! But I love good food, well-made clothes, beautiful flowers and great interiors . . . . The homes of Hubert de Givenchy, do you know them? They were incredible. Just incredible!”
Tiemeyer enjoys veering off topic. He’s an aesthete with seemingly a thousand hobbies, and he prefers not to be pigeonholed. “I don’t like to say I ‘deal’ in fashion. I’m interested in the backstory, the quality and the intellectual side of clothes,” he says, adding with a laugh, “Plus, I don’t care for labels.” He has an eye for the avant-garde and the unique — from flamboyant accessories, like crystal-embellished Adolfo berets and Prada Mohawk pumps, to baroque runway pieces by Dolce & Gabbana, Moschino and Gareth Pugh.
As colorful as the garments that surround him, Tiemeyer has been a creative influencer since his late teens. In 1985, fresh out of high school, he opened the first incarnation of Evolution in his native Cincinnati, attracting a loyal following of arty students. “The University of Cincinnati runs a great fashion and design program, so I would hang out with all those kids,” he explains. “We’d go clubbing together — we’d have a blast!” When his friends were offered co-ops (student employment positions) in New York, he tagged along for a visit, keen to immerse himself in the counterculture.
“People were so experimental in the eighties,” he remembers. “I wore lots of rhinestone pins. I’d throw on a vest with a skirt and some Converse gym shoes.”
In the early 2000s, he opened a boutique in Cincinnati’s Hyde Park neighborhood, specializing in designer ready-to-wear. He was supported by his friend Zac Posen, who had just burst onto the scene with his signature fairy-tale gowns. Posen agreed to have Tiemeyer stock his creations, which opened a gateway to other luxury brands.
Tiemeyer invested in both classic and dramatic pieces by Oscar de la Renta, Alexander McQueen and Riccardo Tisci, who was then at Givenchy. “The ladies of Cincinnati, Kentucky and Indiana are quite conservative and elegant. But wow, did some of those McQueen pieces look great in the window! I knew I’d never sell a whole bunch of them, but that wasn’t the point. It got them in.” Tiemeyer wisely held on to these attention-grabbing props, gradually assembling an archive of couture gems.
In 2005, he accepted a managerial job at Saks Fifth Avenue Cincinnati, agreeing to head up the store’s exclusive personal-shopping division. Initially, he enjoyed building a network of prestige clients, but he soon felt that his wings had been clipped. “I didn’t like the corporate world — I’m too much of a free spirit,” he explains.
He returned to his first love and relaunched Evolution, which he operates exclusively on 1stDibs, armed with rare vintage finds, including an extravagant collection of footwear. “Those classic designer handbags bore me to death, but I’ve always had a thing for wild shoes,” says the entrepreneur, whose pieces have been snapped up by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and such exuberant trendsetters as Lizzo and Lil Buck.
Tiemeyer may not like labels, but his take on personal style is simple and to the point: “Like Karl Lagerfeld once said, fashion is an applied art. Just make sure you dress for yourself and have fun!”
Here, Tiemeyer talks with Introspective about his favorite pieces and explains why openness to new ideas is the key to finding your best looks.
Would you say you naturally gravitate more toward a maximalist style?
I’ve always been drawn to graphic, standout things because I like the way they pop. It must be the club kid in me! But fashion is about having fun, and that means not having a narrow view.
I have clients who are very chic, who prefer the Jackie O minimal look, which I also love. Then there are the Japanese designers — Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto — who are brilliant. Their collections are always so modern and experimental without trying too hard. The quality is amazing. Lately, we’ve sold a lot of Undercover by Jun Takahashi. I am a huge fan of his. Bianca Jebbia [wife of James Jebbia, who created Supreme] just bought a couple of pieces, including his Miles Davis–print skirt suit.
Do you have to be an extrovert to enjoy avant-garde fashion?
People thought I was crazy when I started selling Alexander McQueen in Cincinnati, Ohio! Fashion here tends to be more quiet, in [a palette of] navy, black, camel and cream. But it’s all about having an open mind.
McQueen’s tailoring was so amazing, it just made you look good. It actually became our number-one-selling line. It’s important to play with different styles. Some things are, of course, less wearable, more like pieces of art, like a Jean-Charles de Castelbajac double poncho we had, a really rare piece from the 1970s.
Where do you find all these amazing things?
I grew up thrifting, so I have an instinct for these things. I’ve always known where to look. I have been in the business so long that I’ve already been through all the attics of Cincinnati. Now, I often buy from collectors, but back then, I used to say to all the [local] ladies, “If you hate all that ugly eighties wear, I’ll take it — I love it!” I definitely drained all their closets.
What excites you most about your work?
I get such a thrill when we sell to museums. To me, it’s even more interesting than knowing a celebrity has worn an Evolution piece. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has two Moschino handbags from us: the Moschino milk carton, circa 1990, and the Moschino iron handbag, circa 1995. The iron handbag was exhibited in the museum’s 2019 “Camp” exhibition, which was super-exciting.
Another example is our Prada runway dress from Fall 2011, acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria. The piece [an orange and burgundy paillette-covered dress] was worn on the cover of Vogue magazine by Emma Watson in July 2011 and exhibited in the Met’s Spring 2012 Costume Institute exhibition, “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations.”
Which designer or label do you think will be highly collectible in the future?
Pieter Mulier for Azzedine Alaïa. He worked behind the scenes with Raf Simons for years as his right-hand man at Jil Sander, Dior and Calvin Klein. He’s really talented, and he has lots to do. In fact, he once bought a pair of really cool Ferragamo shoes from me at a vintage fair in New York.