Thom Browne is best-known for his well-tailored and quirky menswear, particularly his cropped suit trousers. Over the years he has won several awards including the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Menswear Designer of the Year in 2006 and GQ Designer of the Year in 2008. Since 2011, he has been showing women’s wear in New York to great success – even First Lady Michelle Obama wowed the world in one of his bespoke coat-dresses at the 2013 inauguration.
Although we met a few months before the photo of the first lady first appeared, it transpires that the dress she wore is based on a pattern from of one of his men’s ties. Browne reveals that there is always a strong connection between his men’s and women’s collections.
“They do rhythm with each other and tie in together, not just philosophically but also down to the fabrics and detailing that I use. Most people know me as a men’s wear designer and men’s wear is about tailoring, so I really wanted to introduce tailoring to women’s wear,” he explains.
“I really want people to see the concept of the design, entertainment and fantasy. I want people to leave with some type of experience.”
This connection can be seen clearly in the spring/summer 2013 collections. An acid colour gingham and check pattern from the men’s line is transformed into a more somber version in grey for women while an embroidered whale motif can be found in different colours and sizes in both lines as well.
The choice of the First Lady to wear Thom Browne to such an important event also sends a strong message about his talent as a designer. It proves that Browne is not only limited to edgy silhouettes like exaggerated shoulders or quirky motifs that he is renowned for, but also beautiful tailoring and fabric.
“I do like to exaggerate either with shapes or just as an idea - it’s just conceptually dealing with different proportions. I also explore with fabric. For example I bonded classic fabrics with neoprene for men’s wear and I had a French company develop tweed fabric specifically for the women’s wear,” he says.
Browne’s creativity and unbridled imagination is also evident in his theatrical presentations. The spring/summer 2013 men’s show in Paris was so magical that it broke all boundaries of a traditional fashion show. A manicured courtyard lawn was neatly lined with large silver brogues as silver giant alien-like creatures appeared and danced around the garden. Then came the moving silver slinks that nudged slowly towards each pair of shoes before stepping into them. The slinks then came off, unveiling all 40 looks simultaneously.
“I do approach the collection and show from a pure design concept. I don’t approach it from a commercial point of view because people can see it in a showroom but for a 15 minute show, I really want people to see the concept of the design, entertainment and fantasy. I want people to leave with some type of experience. It’s also the reason why I moved the men’s show to Paris.” He says.
Apart from his own label, Browne also collaborates with other fashion houses. It is never easy for an independent designer to juggle different companies, while overseeing the design, business and meticulously executed shows. So what’s the secret to his success?
“It’s always so calm until two hours before the show, and suddenly you think, ‘what happened?! I thought we had everthing prepared!’ For example before the men’s show, 12 out of 40 men couldn’t step into those silver brogues… the fashion world and system is not easy, you just have to love it,” he says.
Due to his fantastical shows and experimental designs many of Browne’s collections are often misunderstood and categorised as “difficult” to wear. This is something Browne strongly disagrees with.
“Everybody can wear my design. I have a wide range of customers, from early 20’s to early 80’s. There are architects, bankers and executives. People see the way I wear my trousers short and they say ‘I can never wear my trouser like that.’ But you don’t have to! I never thought about making a fashion statement, but only well-made clothing,” he says.
As a fashion pioneer, JOYCE was one of the first retailers to bring Thom Browne to Asia and the designer remains grateful for their support.
“It’s so nice to have JOYCE to support and nurture. When my collection was first launched in the JOYCE store, it wasn’t a success, but JOYCE stuck with us, educated customers and believed in me. Nowadays, many stores would take a chance on a new brand but would also drop it if it doesn’t’ perform, which is frustrating for designers.”
With his talent, vision and charm, Thom Browne definitely deserves every bit of his success.
Interview by Lucienne Leung-Davies
Photos by Filep Motwary