Anthony Thomas Melillo has our full respect as a fashion designer and creative individual, for the shape and hang of his clothes and for believing in himself over time. Basic casual wear with a tailored fit? Not common in the late 1980s/early 1990s. But today, his sports luxe style is everywhere and his brand ATM at the forefront, making, for one, arguably the perfect t-shirt.
We spoke to the West Chester, PA, native on the phone at his New York showroom about the importance of fit, feel and drape. And about how decades spent editing in the publishing industry at mags including Vogue and Esquire tuned him into the world and honed his instincts.
You’re inside the ATM showroom right now. When you look around, what do you see?
Actually I’m in the hallway. But when I look back into the showroom, I see a big black box. The ATM black box. What is the ATM black box? I will tell you. Well, you know my initials are ATM. And even though I know there’s always a reference to the cash machine, ATM, it’s obviously not for me. It’s my initials. When we actually did the branding guidelines, I thought it would be good to keep the reference to the ATM machine. So our ATM machine is our ATM black box. It’s like an art installation. We’re in the art district, where we are in New York.
Speaking of brand identity: for potentially unfamiliar customers, can we talk about your career and the evolution of ATM?
Sure. So, I started as an editor in the 1980s. The first 12 years of my career I worked as an editor at various magazines. Started at American Vogue, went to Italian Condé Nast in Milan for three years, came back, worked at a few magazines and ended up for five years as the style director at Esquire. That ended in the 1990s. From then on I got into clothes.
At Esquire, as style director, I always did the covers as well as inside material. The covers were always celebrity-oriented. On those shoots, I always got the questions, Who makes a good chino? Who makes a great fleece jacket? This was when you didn’t have those good-fitting pieces which were somewhat basic. Classic but basic. That gave me the idea. When I first started to do clothes in the late ‘90s, I thought there was a void for good-fitting fleece jacket that didn’t have huge arms. Or a great-fitting chino that wasn’t just wide-leg. In the ‘90s, it was a different situation. They didn’t even have designer chinos that fit well. So I saw there was a time and place to do that. And I did.
I started making clothes and had a company called Nova. We got nominated for a CFDA award, it was one of those things that took off right away. We had our own stores, doing retail as well. But I was very green as far as doing business. So that came and went. I wasn’t a great businessperson.
But I learned it. And I worked for other people. And I got better. I redesigned Generra, which was a three-year process. And then I launched ATM three years ago.
My brand DNA has always been similar. In women’s and men’s. It’s casual luxue. Fit and feel. For me it’s all about being comfortable and stylish. It all goes back to those days at Esquire, working with celebrities who were struggling to find those perfect pieces. Cut today and that’s what I am providing.
Are you still filling a void?
I do feel that way. For sure in the 1990s. Even the Gap wasn’t doing it then. I was ahead of my time. We were extreme at that point. Now, today, we’ve evolved into making it more of a luxe collection. It’s more what people wear, not just what they look for. People can dress in a casual luxe way throughout the day. It’s a respected look now. It’s not an odd thing to try and find a look like that.
Let’s talk about specific items. The ATM jogger pants: are those similar to the faille track pants you’ve done before?
Very similar but different fabrication. Same cut. The faille ones have pleats and the French terry do not. It’s a full elastic waistband on the French terry and the faille ones are three-quarters. Same fit though.
Nordstrom bought three t-shirt jerseys from ATM. How do they feel different to the wearer?
When we launched, it was just as a t-shirt company. We do everything and still do everything in Peru. We make them from scratch. The idea is to make the perfect t-shirt, in men’s and womens. You have four different fabrications. The loosest being the vintage jersey, the most slinky being the modal, the classic being the densest and the heaviest being the slub. All consistent in terms of drape. Fit and feel has been important to ATM since day one. Everything has to drape correctly. So after that, it’s a matter of density and feel.
We use Peru for cotton because it’s one of the better cottons, if not the best. It’s the water. It makes the cotton better when you make it a yarn. It’s the softness that you wind up getting that you don’t find, say, in China. They do all our cottons.
How central is the high/low style mix to ATM?
It’s what I wear every day. It’s a natural thing. It’s been my personal style for a long time. So it’s not a forced thing for me. And what we do, to a degree, reflects who I am. I automatically think, How is this blazer going to look with a t-shirt and sneakers? I live that. It’s kind of fun, too, to think about mixing the high and low. Sometimes I’ll buy a designer blazer and wear it with an ATM t-shirt. I think ATM keeps things from being too casual. I’m a 50-year-old guy. I’m not going to walk around wearing sweatpants. If I’m wearing my t-shirts and a blazer, I might wear patent lace-ups. They could be considered formal shoes but to me they look cool. I’ll wear a t-shirt with trousers. It elevates it. I like to have fun with it.
It seems like the stuff you like, happens to be popular or has become popular over time.
I think it comes from me being tapped into what’s around me. I’m on a bicycle. I’m outside a lot. And as an editor, you become instinctual. Your instincts matter. What you see is very important. What strikes you. I’m not a big believer in luck, but I believe in instinct.
Who are your favorite writers about fashion?
I’m not a great reader. I don’t want that to sound…whatever. I am dyslexic but I read. But I’m much more drawn to images.
Which fashion magazines are important to you?
T Magazine has been relevant over the years. I’m into it. I get Details at the house. I think a lot of fashion magazines aren’t very relevant or interesting. Which, again, I don’t know how that sounds. It’s just my opinion!