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Thread: Thom Browne: Method to My Madness

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    Default Thom Browne: Method to My Madness

    From WWD
    by David Pilke

    There’s a paradox to Thom Browne in that the brand is rooted in conservative gray flannel suits, but the runway shows are as fantastical as they come. The designer’s runway lineups over the years have included such theatrical men’s wear proposals as sequined caftans, fringed skirts, spiked balaclavas and mink merkins, with a Minotaur or astronaut character thrown in for good measure.

    In Browne’s view, there is a carefully plotted method to the madness and everything that goes down the runway is fashioned with the same attention to quality and detail as a classic Thom Browne blazer with grosgrain trim.

    “As provocative and as far out as they go, it always does start with a very strong tailored point of view,” he explained of his shows, during an on-stage interview with Men’s Week fashion director Alex Badia. “They are not frivolously thought out or done,” Browne said. “There is a reason for all it.”

    One of those reasons is to garner a reaction, whether positive or negative. The shows are “fifteen minutes to make people think and to entertain,” said Browne. “I approach design from a purely conceptual point of view and then I have a commercial part that backs it all up. But I don’t feel like I need to show the commercial side. There are a lot of commercial designers out there … And something that is beautifully made is always fashionable to me.”

    That assured mind-set is earning Browne a groundswell of critical praise of late, for both his men’s and women’s fall shows. Browne started showing women’s on the runway for spring 2012 and landed a headline-making seal of approval from the nation’s fashion-plate-in-chief, Michelle Obama, when she donned his navy silk jacquard dress and coat for her husband’s Presidential inauguration in January.

    “It was humbling,” said Browne of his moment in the capital spotlight. “I approach women’s from a tailored point of view, as well. There is a lot of crossover between men’s and women’s in the fabrics. This fabric [for Michelle Obama’s dress] was actually developed alongside my most recent men’s collection.”

    While his recent triumphs have turned Browne into one of today’s most compelling names in American fashion, Browne’s early years hardly suggested a path to designer prominence. He was born in 1965 in Allentown, Pa. “I grew up in a family of seven kids and the last thing any of us thought about was fashion. The only thing we ever though about was sports and school,” recalled Browne, whose parents were both attorneys. “We are a very classic American family that grew up in Brooks Brothers and J. Crew and Ralph Lauren.”

    Considering careers as a teenager, Browne “didn’t even know there was such a thing as fashion,” and studied business at Notre Dame, graduating in 1988. He moved to New York to work for a consulting firm but was a fish out of water and he quit after nine months, following one particularly bewildering client assignment in Menomonee Falls, Wisc.

    Browne moved to Los Angeles in 1993 to try his hand at acting. While that foray didn’t lead to much on-screen or on-stage success, Browne did plant the seeds of his growing interest in fashion there.

    “That’s when I unofficially started to design. I used to buy a lot of vintage clothing when I was there because I had a lot of free time,” said Browne. “I would tailor everything down to my size. Because everyone who moves to L.A. gets rid of all their suits, so you go into vintage stores and there are amazing oxford suits and old Brooks Brothers suits.”

    Four years later, he sold his car for the cash to move back to New York, where he found his first fashion gig as an account executive at Giorgio Armani in 1997. “I was sitting at my desk with three other account execs who were really good and very computer savvy and I literally didn’t know how to send an e-mail,” is how Browne remembered his unspectacular time there.

    In 2000, he joined Club Monaco, which had recently been acquired by Ralph Lauren Corp., working there for two years as creative fashion director. “It was my first foray into really designing and creating product at a totally different level and scale of what I do now,” said Browne. He tried introducing an early version of his slimmed-down suit and cardigans into the Club Monaco assortments but they were a flop at retail.

    “It was the dress-down era of men’s fashion, which wasn’t really my thing,” he noted. “I loved wearing jackets and trousers myself and I knew if I liked it, then someone else would like it. Maybe it was before its time, but it just didn’t work.”

    In 2002, Browne struck out on his own, launching an appointment-only suit business out of his apartment. “I knew that I wanted to make a suit for the guy who was running away from the suit. I wanted to create a suit that felt as cool as the guy in jeans and a T-shirt. I wanted to take the classic gray suit and change the proportions.”

    To the casual observer, the Thom Browne look may be most readily identifiable by the signature high-water trousers, but the designer noted that many of his customers don’t wear their pants in that exaggerated manner. “Everyone gets hung up on the length of the trouser but that was almost to hit the guy in the face. This is something that is classic, but I wanted to have the guy ask why this is happening,” explained Browne.

    That “why” is because Browne is partial to the aesthetic proportions of shorter pants with his shorter jacket length. More ideologically, however, it’s a simple way to provoke a reaction from viewers. “The gray suit is so classically inspired, I needed to show it in a way where you almost don’t understand it,” reasoned Browne.

    For all its idiosyncrasies, Browne’s clothes at retail attract a divergent range of customers. “I have the young guy that likes fashion and that’s what the collections are for. I have so many customers that want the classic parts of my collection — they want to be the cool guy in the office and wear the suit in a really beautiful, classic way. And that, for me, is just as much fashion as [the runway] is.”

    Short pants and shrunken silhouette notwithstanding, the classic gray suit has always been a linchpin of Browne’s repertoire and philosophy. “I wanted to create something that was timeless. That was really important. I had no interest in trends or creating something that was going to be there for a couple years and then re-think, ‘What do I want to do now?’” said Browne. “Because every collection, even as crazy as they are now, they always start from this gray suit.”

    Fabrics from the runway collection are sometimes translated into more retail-friendly designs, said Browne. He starts each collection by designing the fabrics himself. “I don’t go to fabric shows because I think it’s so important that we develop our own,” he noted.

    A pivotal turning point in Browne’s ascent came in 2004 when Bergdorf Goodman installed a Thom Browne shop in its men’s store. Browne persuaded the retailer to place it on the third floor with its designer labels, rather than on the tailored-clothing floor. “I wanted to be on the fashion floor because that was the floor in my mind that were the people who have shows and provoked people every six months…and moved the ideas forward. I wanted to be with the customer who was understanding that.”

    In 2009, Japan-based Cross Co. acquired a majority stake in Thom Browne. The partnership works because each party supports the other’s mission, said the designer. “I’m responsible in that I know that it’s a business. [They] understand the reason for these shows,” he noted.

    The Thom Browne label is now sold in 123 stores for men’s and 40 for women’s, with key retail partners including Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys New York, Hankyu, Dover Street Market and Colette. Earlier this month, Browne opened a Tokyo flagship in the fashionable Aoyama district, the company’s second retail unit following its New York store in Tribeca.

    Browne currently designs two collaboration labels, Black Fleece by Brooks Brothers that launched in 2007, and Moncler Gamme Bleu that launched in 2009. “I’m so proud of Black Fleece. It’s something that’s become exactly what I wanted it to be. It stands on its own but it also works within the world of Brooks Brothers,” said Browne. “For collaborations to really work, you really have to love what it is and understand it.”

    At Moncler, the first garment he designed was a down-filled sport coat. “It was so important to bring that tailored point of view to the world of Moncler. In order for the Moncler brand to grow in the future, [I wanted to] bring more of a collection [idea] as opposed to just being an outerwear company.”

    One area of his business that he leaves to others is online strategies — although his e-mail skills have improved from his Giorgio Armani days. “I don’t fight it, but I’m of the generation that didn’t grow up with it,” he noted of his company’s digital commerce and marketing initiatives. “I have people that are so much better at it. I don’t think as much about it as other people do.”
    Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months - Oscar Wilde

    StyleZeitgeist Magazine

  2. #2

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    Thanks for posting this faust!

    I guess I've always had a hard time with him. I think the clothes are beautiful and have had a few blazers in the past. Funny, I can totally relate to shedding the "smarter" wardrobe for the "California vintage" look. I'm slowly going through that process now...

    I think If a sharper American heritage silhouette a la 'city business young professional' is your go to look, than he might be your guy. I appreciate his mid century modern references, it actually really speaks to me. I think though that in the past 4 years or so we've seen a blatantly agressive push to over accessorize the modern man (tie bars, lapel broaches, pocket squares, pocket square pins, little ribbons for blazer button holes etc. etc.)

    When Heidi reintroduced the skinny suit, it had more a rock and roll fuck all movement behind it. Drawing references from youth culture. Being a young obsessive mod this spoke to me. Now that MadMen and the sorts have oversaturated main stream culture, where can one turn to cut against the grain, push against the machine, yet still hold onto to those ideals of pure modernism

    I've always found english tailoring to be superior to the Thom Browne's. I'd take a Spencer Hart or Ozwald Boateng french cuff shirt any day over TB's heavy, ristrictive, ones. Hell, even Paul Smith or Richard James stand their respective grounds. I guess it's my anglophile preference that shines through.

    As theatrical as his shows are, it just seems like he's just taking the piss. I'd rather show a collection of modern pieces through film via A Single Man like Tom Ford executed flawlessly, than wet the bed time and time again...
    Quote Originally Posted by Shucks View Post
    it's like cocaine, only heavier. and legal.
    Quote Originally Posted by interest1 View Post
    I don't live in the past. But I do have a vacation home there.

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    kitsch killer Faust's Avatar
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    Funny, TB used to annoy me and I wrote him off as a one trick pony, but I am slowly coming around, not in terms of style (I wouldn't be caught dead in one of those suits and the whole preppy New England privileged private school background for me is something from another planet), but in terms of him as a designer capable of building an aesthetic world. His shows have quickly become the most interesting ones in New York. The last women's show was really exciting.
    Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months - Oscar Wilde

    StyleZeitgeist Magazine

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    Yeah I hear ya about the prep school vibe. I hate that shit. I guess I'm a little bitter, as punk kids we wore 60s suits to fuck with those rugby types, now the roles have been reversed.

    TB F/W 09 is probably my favorite presentation of his:




    I still have my tanker desk from the 40s that I bought at an estate sale years ago. I've always wanted this ataché:




    There's some japanese cats that rock his look well without it being too restrictive. I think Adam or Scott has some good shots of that look.
    Quote Originally Posted by Shucks View Post
    it's like cocaine, only heavier. and legal.
    Quote Originally Posted by interest1 View Post
    I don't live in the past. But I do have a vacation home there.

  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by Faust View Post
    the whole preppy New England privileged private school background for me is something from another planet)
    He's from a working class town outside of Philadelphia.
    So if that were what he was referencing (but really, it's not)
    it would be something from another planet for him as well.
    Last edited by laika; 03-28-2013 at 09:07 PM. Reason: planet. not plant.
    ...I mean the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art whose other half is the eternal and the immutable.

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    kitsch killer Faust's Avatar
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    I am not sure if attorney parents and studying business at Notre Dame is exactly working class, but I was talking about an aesthetic world he has created, which does not necessarily have to be autobiographic.
    Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months - Oscar Wilde

    StyleZeitgeist Magazine

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    ^ i didn't mean that he was working class, only that he grew up in that kind of atmosphere. i don't know whether or how much that has contributed to his aesthetic. What is undoubtedly clear is that there is very consistently dark side to Thom, and it's interesting to speculate about where that might have come from.
    ...I mean the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art whose other half is the eternal and the immutable.

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by laika View Post
    What is undoubtedly clear is that there is very consistently dark side to Thom, and it's interesting to speculate about where that might have come from.
    some sort of fighting irish hazing gone terribly wrong / or right...

    Quote Originally Posted by Shucks View Post
    it's like cocaine, only heavier. and legal.
    Quote Originally Posted by interest1 View Post
    I don't live in the past. But I do have a vacation home there.

  9. #9
    kitsch killer Faust's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by laika View Post
    ^ i didn't mean that he was working class, only that he grew up in that kind of atmosphere. i don't know whether or how much that has contributed to his aesthetic. What is undoubtedly clear is that there is very consistently dark side to Thom, and it's interesting to speculate about where that might have come from.
    I agree. I think we should ask him.
    Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months - Oscar Wilde

    StyleZeitgeist Magazine

  10. #10

    Default Punk 2012 season

    Does anyone on here know where to find or own any used or sample items from 2012 Punks/Bullies season? I collect so much Thom runway stuff (and actually wear it) but didn't start until after 2012 so sadly my favorite pieces are impossible to find which sucks... ;-(. Always ask around but can never find them. Any help would be amazing and just about anything from that season in 0, 1 or 2 is fair game. Would wear the hell out of it too.

    Thanks all.

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