It’s rare for Americans to be avant-garde in fashion. Usually, it’s the Europeans who focus more on the artistic side of fashion rather than its marketability. The American market is known for sportswear and ready-to-wear—categories that don’t require that much artistic design. Although some are prominent for their lavish styles, in essence, American fashion is all about commerciality. They design stuff that will sell but will still look good on the consumer. It’s because of their focus on business that the fashion, as a whole, has become a multibillion-dollar industry. However, some American tastemakers have ventured away from the stereotypical sportswear approach, leaning instead on artistic design and fantasy. One such is Thom Browne.
Unlike his compatriots and contemporaries, Thom Browne has been showing fantastical and whimsical designs. He has a European approach to fashion when compared to other American designers like Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein. During his shows, which he has since moved from New York Fashion Week to Paris Fashion Week, he presents a runway filled with his most outrageous imaginations. He also often explores themes that have serious undertones but presented in a light and fashionable way. He incorporates both the modernity of American fashion and the traditions of European fashion into a unique blend of fashion and fantasy.
Economics, acting, and finally… fashion
Thom Browne grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and developed a love for fashion at a young age. However, for college, he took up economics at the famous University of Notre Dame. Although, upon graduation, he immediately decided to try his hand at acting. He worked in a few commercials and auditioned for a variety of movie roles. It was during this time that he started buying and altering vintage men’s suits with Johnson Hartig, another fashion designer. In 1997, he moved to New York City and worked as a sales associate for Club Monaco, owned by Ralph Lauren at the time. Ralph Lauren took notice of Browne’s expert knowledge on fashion and tailoring and eventually made him part of the brand’s design and merchandising teams.
He left the company in 2001 and tried to make his own collections of suits and other vintage-inspired fashions. He would wear his suits himself or have friends wear them on high-profile occasions—in the hopes of getting more awareness for his brand. Soon, his clothes caught the eye of many prominent New York retailers, and in turn, much elite clientele. He eventually opened his own made-to-measure studio in 2003, creating both ready-to-wear and bespoke tailored suits. A year later, in 2004, he made his debut in New York Fashion Week with a small presentation. In 2011, he expanded onto womenswear, applying his expert tailoring on women’s clothing. Soon, both his men’s and women’s lines became successes.
Black Fleece and Gamme Bleu
Since opening in 2003, Thom Browne has caught the eye of many brands to either be their creative director or collaborate with the designer. In 2006, the designer entered a partnership with Brooks Brothers to create a 50-piece men’s and women’s collection. It was under the latter’s program, Black Fleece, in which they invite guest designers to design capsule collections for them. His pieces were available in only 30 Brooks Brothers stores worldwide and were met with critical acclaim and commercial success. The designer continued designing for them until 2008. The collaboration was so successful that Brooks Brothers opened a stand-alone store for Black Fleece in New York City.
In 2008, the designer was appointed as creative director for Moncler Gamme Bleu, the menswear line of the French-Italian sportswear label. He presented his first collection for the brand in 2009, debuting on Milan Menswear Fashion Week. Similar to his own designs, he injected some fantastical shapes and quirky silhouettes to a brand already known for such. He also presented them in unorthodox locations, similarly to his own shoes in New York Fashion Week. For Fall 2009, he showed his collection on an artificial ski slope, while for Spring 2010 in a public indoor swimming pool, and for Fall 2010 against a mockup of military-style barracks.
Because of his devotion to classic men’s dressing, Thom Browne acquired a fanbase full of famous faces. He eventually became a fixture on both the red carpet and streetwear. Actors like Oscar-winning Eddie Redmayne and broadway-and-TV star Neil Patrick Harris have worn Thom Browne suits on various red carpet events. Music artists like Usher and Chance The Rapper have also worn his designs, both on the street and on the red carpet. When he launched his womenswear, the likes of Diane Keaton and Leighton Meester have been spotted in Thom Browne. Arguably his most distinguished client, however, is former US first lady Michelle Obama, who wore a coat dress of his during her husband’s second inauguration.
Having acquired a taste for formal dressing, Thom Browne stands out today as one of those designers devoted to creating high-quality and refined clothing. Even though his designs can go completely out-of-hand at times and are often avant-garde, his core principle as a designer to have men and women dressing up again.