With whimsy and wit, designer Thom Browne challenges us to open our eyes, hearts, and minds to new ideas and reimagine what the future looks like.
By LAURA BOLT
Photography THOMAS GOLDBLUM
It’s not difficult to spot a Thom Browne suit. Shorts, cropped sleeves, tight jackets—it’s wrong done right. For almost two decades, the American designer has upended our ideas of what suiting can be, playing with fit and non traditional silhouettes. His garments are as perfectly made as they are distinctive and unique, and have brought the idea of uniform dressing back to the forefront with a twist, of course. Celebrated throughout the industry for his ingenuity, Browne’s signature style is equally classic and irreverent.
Browne’s dramatic and theatrical runway shows have always pushed viewers to think about what fashion means beyond clothing. By asking questions about identity, authenticity, and what constitutes personal style, Browne illustrates the role fashion can play in determining who we are and how we see the world.
The Thom Browne brand has always championed the idea of uniform dressing. What does that mean to you?
For me, the idea of uniformity and a uniform speaks to true confidence. It’s about knowing yourself very well. A true individual knows themselves well enough to be comfortable in a uniform. I’m in fashion and I design clothes, but fashion is not always so interesting to me. That’s why I like my shows, I like my collections to transcend fashion and become more important than the clothing. I think, in a way, how we represent ourselves at Thom Browne in a grey, very uniform way, I think it becomes almost like a piece of living art, which I think is more interesting and just transcends fashion.
Your SS19 show ended with the note, “See the world through my eyes.” What world do you want people to see?
Really, this collection was just showing the way I take classic ideas in reinterpret them in regards to proportion, and sometimes in ways that make things more interesting. The idea at the end of the show was about being playful and encouraging people to get along.
I hope that the world they see is one in which everyone is open to new ideas, and ideas you might not be comfortable with. A future that is more open.
Your collection was so vivid and bright, an interesting contrast from a lot of the dark and somber clothing that was shown by other designers this season.
It was very colorful, very open, and I hope people saw a very uplifting collection. I want to encourage people not to always take shows so literally, and just be open to interpreting it in their own way. The way I approached the collection from a design point of view, was that I wanted to make sure they’re not just seeing clothing. They’re seeing ideas that are moving things forward. Things that are relevant to the season, but also telling a story that hopefully they leave with something they remember.
Where did your inspiration come from?
It started from the idea of an East Coast American aesthetic in regards to colors, and fabrications, and iconography. I wanted to introduce the original proportion to this season’s proportions. I don’t really always think in terms of how it’s going to become reality. I think of, in a way, how it’s all going to feel right for now and how it will make the classic ideas of what I do more interesting this season. Then the reality just comes from there.
Your shows always make a statement, but at the end of the day, you also need to sell clothes. How do you balance conceptual ideas with the need to create a commercial product?
I keep them both separate in my mind. It starts with the conceptual side, and then the commercial comes from there. Everything starts with the conceptual part of what I do. The collections evolve through the season, but when it comes to translating something to the commercial side, it’s really just about taking the ideas and adapting them to represent the collection.
How do you convince customers to buy the more conceptual, runway pieces?
The most important thing is just for people to be open to seeing different things, and to considering things differently, and not to be so stuck on just seeing things that they understand. That’s the most challenging part, especially after the show and what happens in the showroom commercially. Challenge your customers, for God’s sake. Try to make them consider something new, as opposed to just being safe and just doing the same thing. There’s nothing worse than being safe. The key is making sure that what people see is actually then being offered to them.
Do you ever struggle with self-doubt?
I would never put something in front of people that I wasn’t 100 per cent comfortable with. I like to make people think. I also like presenting something beautiful, because the collection is beautifully made and I hope people see the beauty in them. But I would be troubled if everyone loved what they were seeing, I think its important that some people don’t love it. When you want to put something in front of people that provokes a conversation, you have to expect the good and the bad.
You’ve referenced style icons like Steve McQueen, JFK, and Cary Grant in your collections. What is it that draws you to them?
It’s really just about how effortless they were, and how simple they were. They had such a sense of individuality and confidence in the way they lived their lives, but they were also really effortless.
Film is also a recurring reference point in your work.
It feels like something very true to me as a person. Movies like Metropolis, or the films of Stanley Kubrick have always been an inspiration.
Could you ever see yourself going into the film industry?
I do think about it. The art world is interesting to me, the world of film is interesting to me. I would never want to take away from what I do in fashion, because there is still so much I have to do with my collections with both women’s and men’s. But I think it’s important for people to see me doing things outside of fashion.
How do you reinterpret the past in a way that feels fresh and new?
I think I forget enough about things that it makes it easier to make things my own, and relevant to the modern day. It’s easy for designers to get locked into literal references. One of the challenges that I give myself and everyone here is that I never let literal references in the studio. We don’t have things right in front of us, so we have to reinterpret them in our minds.
Dress codes have become more relaxed today, greatly influenced by sportswear and streetwear. Has the suit lost relevance, or is it more interesting because of the sense of rarity?
I think suits will always be interesting. I there will always be an appreciation for something that is well made. I feel like I’m back to where I started 18 years ago, when no one was wearing tailored clothing. We’re kind of back in that moment again. I feel like tailored clothing is so much more interesting than everything else that’s out there, because it is so unique. The interpretation, the proportion, and the quality is what makes it interesting.
Clothing is so disposable nowadays, but there’s nothing more fashionable than something that is beautifully made.
Have the needs of your customer changed in the past 18 years?
I don’t think much has changed, actually. Of course the collections develop and expand, but I think that’s the reason why the business is doing so well. I’ve stayed true to what I do, and people know what to come to me for. I think that’s the reason business is as strong as it is. I think my customer is expecting more of the same.
We live in a culture that’s obsessed with Instagram and immediate gratification. How do you feel about working in social media obsessed world?
I think it is important to stay up with the times and not to fight technology and to be relevant with what’s going on. For me, however, the most important thing is that I do it my own way, and I don’t do it like anyone else. I never have.
What do you think the role of fashion is in the larger dialogue about global affairs and how the world is changing?
I think its different for everyone. I like it to be a more charming, under, softly spoken message than hitting people over the head. Personally, I like to put ideas in front of people that maybe aren’t even relevant for today, but speak to what might happen in the future.