“The most important thing for me is doing something that makes people think,” says Thom Browne. “Playing with a very classic idea and showing it differently is vital to me.” The New York-based designer is sporting his signature tailored silhouette, and as usual, he’s erring on the side of understatement. The look is fitting, since, of all of the minds shaping the state of modern menswear, Browne is perhaps the most influential. He is without question one of the prevailing reasons why American men have finally embraced a shorter, slimmer suit in the 21st century. We recently caught up with him in his New York office, which shows the same distinctive unfussy refinement that has come to define both his brand and the man himself.
Browne launched his namesake label in 2003 and quickly gained acclaim for his shrunken, schoolboy-ish approach to the traditional two-button suit. Worn with an oxford cloth shirt left unbuttoned at the collar—all the better to show off the tri-color grosgrain detailing on the placket—it was a bit of subtle subversion. He is the man in the revolutionary uniform disguised as the man in the gray flannel suit.
Since his impactful rise, Browne has further developed his code of controlled distortion with the addition of street-inspired silhouettes (think sweatshirts, sweatpants, and hoodies), as well as with accessories. This past season, his Hector bag, a dog-shaped leather tote inspired by his wire-haired dachshund, flew off the shelves. “Thom Browne has built a brand that is extremely consistent and powerful in message,” says Tom Kalenderian, Barneys’ executive vice president of men’s, children’s, and home. “His way of thinking, his wit and whimsy through fashion is as if he is writing a book or directing a film. It’s a truly visionary approach.”
For Spring ‘17, Browne’s vision is couched in California surfer culture—“there was no specific reason other than that it was something I was interested in”—and his lineup of tailored clothing and sportswear presents an unexpectedly carefree view of the world. Candy-coated colors and visual trickery in the form of trompe l’oeil all-in-one outfits defined the collection’s debut in Paris, while the jokey nature of the show itself—a man dressed as a doddering shark was a cornerstone of the presentation—belied the artful construction of the clothes themselves.
Such a lighthearted turn might at first seem surprising from Browne, but this type of playful punk goes to the core of his fashion philosophy. “There is no reason why something playful cannot be seriously made,” he explains. One need only handle a single piece of his—from the whimsical handbags to an exquisitely crafted topcoat—to understand just how true that is.