Jon Tutolo will make you laugh. Hang out with him long enough and he just might make you cry. The 42-year-old creative director of One Kings Lane has funny stories to spare and a warm quality about him that might be the reason the polar ice caps are melting. We're sure that one day he's going to write a best-selling book.
Until that happens, you can get to know a bit about his impressive — and unlikely — career right here. Then you can meet him in Dallas (which is his hometown) this September at the Flea Style Summit, when he'll be one of our star panelists!
Flea Style: We should first explain why we call your career unlikely. You didn't graduate from high school. Is that right?
Jon: That's right, but I don't want to go around encouraging people to drop out of school. My family kicked me out of the house when they found out I was gay — I didn't have a choice in the matter. I was very ambitious even in my high school years. I already had a strong interest in fashion and journalism and when I could no longer live at home, I already had an internship at The Dallas Morning News. Fashion editor Tracy Hayes gave me a job. I would work part time at the newspaper and part time at a modeling agency. It was one of those saving graces where opportunity meets preparation. Tracy has always been my mentor and guardian angel.
FS: The Dallas Morning News sent you to cover New York Fashion Week? And that's how you ended up working at Elite Model Management when you were just 20 years old?
J: I would go to Fashion Week to cover the collections, yes. I would meet a lot of agency people during those trips. When I came back from one of those trips, I got three job offers at once. I considered it a sign. I took a job at Elite, which was the agency that represented all the big supermodels of the time — Claudia Schiffer, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell — and moved to New York. I worked at Elite until I was 24. When I think about it now, it all seems like a blur.
FS: From there what did you do?
J: I decided to do photo styling on my own full time. As an agent, I specialized in fashion photography, so I worked with a lot of editors and designers and photographers. I had relationships with a lot of people and I always had a foot in each door.
FS: How did you end up back in talent management — at Trump Model Management of all places?
J: I was asked to be a judge for the Miss Universe pageant. That's where I met Donald Trump. He was starting Trump Model Management, and he asked me to join the team in a similar role to what I had at Elite. I wasn't there long before he asked me to be CEO. I ran that company from the time I was 27 till I was 31.
FS: So you worked for the president of the United States?
J: [laughs] Yeah. It's crazy. I see him on TV or hear him on the radio, and it's so familiar. I know him. I know his process. I was completely surprised that at 27 he offered me that position. I was probably naive, but it was an opportunity and he recognized that I am a hard worker.
FS: So where do you go from there?
J: It was really during those years that I started to embrace my interest in interiors. My friends were always joking that I was always moving to a new apartment at the end of my lease just so I could decorate. This was when Victory Park was being built in downtown Dallas and the stars aligned for me to come home and open a home furnishings store, Haven, in 2006. I did everything: the purchasing, the merchandising, PR, social media and advertising. I even washed the windows. But Victory Park was a disaster and the housing market crashed in 2007. I held onto that business as long as I could, but by 2010 I had to close.
The opening of Haven is actually how I met Brittany. By that point, she was working for Tracy at The Dallas Morning News and was sent to cover the story for the paper. There was an instant connection between us that day.
FS: Did you have a plan?
J: I thought I would move back to New York. Figure it out from there. But Lisa Dawson, president of the Kim Dawson Agency, called and said, "Before you do that, let me make you and offer." I spent the next couple of years there as creative director, helping the company relaunch its annual model search.
FS: How did you end up at Neiman Marcus?
J: It was a full-circle moment when I was at Flea Style and ran into Tracy Hayes and she brought to my attention that there was an opportunity to work under Georgia Christensen and The Book team at Neiman Marcus where Tracy was editor. For four years, I oversaw advertising and editorial for men's clothing and worked on home and kids' and private label.
FS: And now you're back in NYC, in a new role, as creative director at One Kings Lane.
J: Yeah. I moved back to New York in November 2016 to work at an advertising agency. The very week I was moving, One Kings Lane reached out to me. The timing was terrible, but I fell in love with the company and here I am!
FS: Your career is an incredible journey. What's the through line? How does someone whose education is disrupted at such an early age end up working for some of the top companies in home and fashion in the world?
J: In addition to being a hard worker, I believe strongly in karma and following the Golden Rule. Through every kind of trial in my life, I have tried to operate from a place of kindness. I work to create empathy across all channels — that's how I live my life. I always try to understand where someone is coming from before I respond. I believe it takes a lot more energy to be negative and unkind than to give someone a smile or a moment of understanding. I want to always do my best and be fair.
FS: It makes us feel warm inside just hearing you say that. Thank you soooo much for being our guest!
J: No, thank you! See you in September!
If you're in awe of Jon the way that we are in awe of Jon, get your Summit ticket now!