Thom Browne might be more 'suit' than you'd think

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

NEW YORK (AP) — Don't overthink Thom Browne.

Yes, he dressed Michelle Obama on Inauguration Day in an outfit made of fabrics usually used for men's ties, and, yes, his most recent New York Fashion Week show seemed a fairy tale interpreted through "Fifty Shades of Grey." But Browne says he isn't staring at the ceiling at night thinking how to shake up fashion. He's just not the overzealous, mercurial artiste.

What he's doing is building a business — and what he hopes is a smart, long-lasting business at that.

Browne has made an impeccably tailored (although slightly shrunken) suit his uniform, for goodness sakes.

He came from a nice family in Allentown, Pa. He was a college swimmer at Notre Dame, where he studied economics. He cared about school and sports, Browne says, and he didn't think much about his wardrobe until he landed in New York in the 1990s and got an office job at Giorgio Armani.

He runs, without fail, for 70 minutes a day.

Browne, 47, says he sometimes is entertained to read the audience's musings about the deep meanings of his runways — which also have included a futuristic funhouse, a makeshift convent and a turf tennis court. Sometimes are way off base, but that's OK. At least they're thinking about him and his clothes.

At a show, he has a chance to leave a lasting impression with each of the 30 to 40 looks, he explains, and "I want to make people think, or laugh, or cry. I really don't think about whether they'll like it or don't like it."

Fashion is a crowded place, he says, and he wants to stand out from the masses. "I have no interest in trends. People say, 'Really?' to that. It's not that I don't care, but I don't want to follow trends, and I don't especially want to create them."

He doesn't look to obscure works of art or exotic locales for inspiration, although, he allows, there might be the subtle influence from time to time from a Turner Classic movie.

"There's a reason for everything I do. I don't do these fantastic shows arbitrarily," Browne adds. "From start to finish, I know what people will see. I have to think logically."

Ultimately, this is about men wearing his tailored and tweaked preppy styles, and women wearing dresses with carefully sculpted silhouettes and carrying their luxe, streamlined Thom Browne handbag.

"I don't design from a commercial point of view, but I would love for people to wear my clothes," Browne says. He is flattered when he sees passers-by on the street wearing his label — or even an imitation of his trademark styles.

The first lady's navy dress-and-coat combination in January certainly helped put him in the spotlight, even if it wasn't the first time he dressed her.

The outfit came about as he was designing his fall menswear collection, and he had access to a beautiful silk foulard fabric.

He was in Paris when Mrs. Obama donned the look, and the reality of its impact is just being felt. There were A LOT more requests for invitations to his show, for example, Browne says, and he thinks pretty much anyone who didn't know he added women's clothes to his repertoire three years ago probably does now.

On a day-to-day basis, though, it has to be business as usual, and he is hands-on, disciplined and organized. That means working on spring collections, developing fabrics, meeting buyers and clients, and scouting locations for his next catwalks. Publicity, too.

"I never set out to be famous," he says. "It's awkward to talk about yourself, but I want people to see that I do interesting things, so this is part of it."

Browne says he's not the type to dwell on the past if he's made a mistake — or to bask in its glory if he hasn't. He's just too busy. This month, he is opening a store in Tokyo.

"The travel is good travel. I don't have time for a real vacation, so if I get a good meal in on a trip, that's my enjoyment," Browne says. "I don't really need a vacation. I love what I'm doing."

This interview was done in his smallish, sparse and warm boutique in Tribeca. He opened this location in 2006, and he's not rushing for bigger space. He's not someone who craves change; he says he likes moving in methodical steps.

On Wednesday, he received a nomination from the Council of Fashion Designers of America as the top menswear designer of the year, a category he previously won in 2006. Last year, he won the National Design Award from the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, an award presented to him by Mrs. Obama.

"I feel like it's all going well. Men's is going well, women's is going well — and the first lady looked great."




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