The Interview: Thom Browne

A small grosgrain flag made up of three precise colours appears on Thom Browne’s jackets and on the back of his shoes, paired with his famous shorts, sported by the man himself. Below those carefully honed, tiny, perfectly fitting jackets, part of his new silhouette and one of his trademark motifs. Ever since his first collection in 2004, Mr. Thom Browne has shaken things up, putting the male figure back where it belongs. His work is marked by obsessive precision and iconic, clean lines, and always narrated with theatrical show-performances, journeys into fragments of memory, dreamlike and naive with a hint of provocation. The most recent featured a dark beach full of surfers, whilst previous creations remain etched in the memory: the male wedding and male geishas, toy soldiers with painted lips, astronauts, and the slightly Mad Men-inspired office, presented at Pitti Immagine Man. They recall 1950s and 1960s America, biting with occasional distortion, and describing male clothing like a sartorial fairytale: fairy tailoring, you could say. There's also a women’s version, with ladies who seem to have sprung out of an old American soap opera. “The next step is to keep on growing”, Browne explained, following the changes at his company with a view to expansion: the new majority shareholder Sandbridge Capital and the arrival of Rodrigo Bazan, formerly of Alexander Wang, as CEO. Quite some time has passed since he began in 2001, with five suits and a small by-appointment-only shop.

(photography by Tommy Ton)


Stefano Roncato: What was the starting point for your latest show?

Thom Browne: It actually began with simple ideas. Surfing, young people and utilitarian items. That's my approach.

SR: Speaking of young people - how important are the new generations for you?

TB: The most important thing for me is that people live in their clothes, rather than treating them as something precious. That's why I wanted the guys to undress in front of everyone, because it's what happens in real life. It has a lot of charm.



SR: From astronauts and weddings to office furniture and Pitti Immagine Man. What does each show have that stems from you and your background?

TB: They don’t come from anything definite in my past, but rather from images that I have in my mind. It is crucial to interpret them in a different way, which is why I never use literal or pedagogical references. There are no photos, or you can't create mood boards. I like them to be how I imagine them in my mind. Sometimes I forget them, mix them up and make them even more interesting.

SR: To create a feeling…

TB: I like people to understand where everything is coming from, but always reconsidered from a different viewpoint. That is the most important thing for me.

SR: How do you find designing for other brands such as Moncler or Brooks Brothers?

TB: It works well as long as I understand and appreciate what the brand is about. I find that is the only way collaboration can work. You need mutual respect.

SR: You pay close attention to the cut and fit of your jackets, trousers and shoes. Where does this extremely precise style of yours come from?

TB: I think it's simply my personal taste. I like everything to be in order, regular and uniform.


​​Moncler Grenoble Fashion Show Ready To Wear Collection Fall Winter 2016 in New York (by Regis Colin-Berthelier for NOWFASHION)


SR: Like a military school…

TB: I love the idea of uniformity and confidence, and the individuality of uniform.

SR: Men's fashion is changing, with cancelled shows and designers changing jobs rapidly. What is happening to menswear?

TB: I imagine everyone is trying to figure that out. I know what works for me, and I love producing runway shows. My business is going well and I see no reason to change. It is important that everyone understands what is best for them. And it is interesting to see the new approaches people are trying, taking on new challenges.

SR: Sandbridge Capital has bought the majority of your company from the Japanese firm Stripe International, and you have a new manager. How should these changes be seen in the context of your company and your business?

TB: Everything has been going well for several years, and I wanted to be ready to take advantage of this positive time. I really want to grow. And I really want to be able to do everything that I am capable of. My relationship with Japan has always been good, and they will always play a role. Personally, I wanted someone who would help me achieve significant growth.

SR: What is the next step?

TB: We will continue to approach the collections in the same way. Women's fashion is becoming increasingly important, so we will focus a lot on womenswear. Menswear has always been important. But I want to open some shops, because I don’t think there is anything better than having control over people’s experience.


Thom Browne Fashion Show Ready To Wear Collection Fall Winter 2016 in New York (by Gio Staiano for NOWFASHION)


SR: Will there be any new collections?

TB: No. With the men's and women's pre-collections and main collections, we have 12 a year. I think that's already plenty.

SR: As you've mentioned them, what do you think about the whole mechanism that has led to pre-collections and the latest promise of see now, buy now? Is it necessary?

TB: Here too, everyone has to work out what works best for them. I know that it was good for my business. It worked for me.

SR: You show your range in Paris and your Moncler Gamme Bleu pieces in Milan. But do feel more American or more European?

TB: I feel very American. International, undoubtedly, but I feel very American and I want people to always see an American sensibility in my collections. It's important to respect it, because in some ways in the 1950s and 1960s there was true American appreciation across the world, with many people outside America more passionate than the Americans themselves. But this was lost a little in the 1970s and 1980s. I would really like to see it brought back and appreciated internationally.

SR: Last year, during the men’s part of New York Fashion Week, you launched a tailoring section...

TB: It's going well: I have bought the factory in New York. Even though my fashion shows have some provocative ideas, the quality of the garments remains fundamental. This is a collection of classic, beautifully made suits.

SR: Do you like living in the Big Apple? Is it the centre of the world?

TB: I love being in New York, but I also really like travelling. And a lot of my work happens when I'm away.


Thom Browne Fashion Show Menswear Collection Spring Summer 2017 in Paris (by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION)


SR: How do you manage to balance all these different projects?

TB: You simply have to do it, there's no choice. I like being organised, and I have some excellent people around me. Obviously, I have schedules to follow. But it also depends on my way of approaching design. Everything is designed from scratch, from head to toe. It's not a question of simply applying the final styling.

SR: What do you have in mind when you design the collection?

TB: The whole look.

SR: Do you draw?

TB: No. I have the ideas in my mind, like conceptual sketches. These aren't easy to read at first, but my team in the office can interpret them.

SR: You said that your fashion shows always contain a hint of provocation, even if the item is made perfectly…

TB: When you make garments so perfectly, there has to be something that renders them a little imperfect. Completely perfect things aren't interesting. You need a touch of personality.

SR: What did you want to get across with your fashion shows based around the wedding or the toy soldiers? Did you want to give menswear a twist from the inside?

TB: I want it to have a different look, with an easy idea to grasp and something that is not so immediately comprehensible. Something to make you think. Differently.


​Thom Browne Fashion Show Menswear Collection Spring Summer 2017 in Paris (by Guillaume Roujas for NOWFASHION)


SR: What you think of the latest wave of provocation in other peoples’ shows?

TB: I don't watch any other fashion shows. It makes my work as a designer easier. Sometimes, when you see too much, it can be intimidating. And it is so easy to be influenced subconsciously. I always say that ignorance is bliss.

SR: Are there any designers you particularly like?

TB: Anyone who creates interesting and courageous items. Rei Kawakubo. There's nobody like her.

SR: A creative genius...

TB: I appreciate quality. And everyone with a ‘pure design’ approach to design.

SR: If you had time, given your commitments, would you design for a major fashion house?

TB: I would never abandon my brand, but there is one fashion house I would design for. I’m not telling you which one, though.

SR: Is it Italian or American?

TB: Neither.

SR: French?

TB: … (laughs)


By Stefano Roncato - MFF Magazine for Fashion
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