“Everyone told me my clothes didn’t fit, even my friends.” So says celebrated designer Thom Browne, whose name is synonymous with the shrunken suit tailoring that has become the standout menswear trend of the past decade. Though he is now considered a darling of the fashion industry, his unusual take on classic tailoring was initially met with resistance. But Browne knew there was a market for his designs – he envisioned “the businessman who wants to look both conservative and cool,” and transformed his personal style into a successful global label.
Thom Browne Fall/Winter 2013/14, Look 8. Photo by Marcus Tondo, courtesy of Vogue.com.
Fashion was not Browne’s immediate calling. As one of seven children raised in a Catholic family in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Browne learned the benefits of routine, self-discipline, and hard work early on – he is known for eating the same breakfast every day, ritual morning runs, and a sophisticated yet sparsely decorated apartment. Browne’s entire education took place at private schools, wearing the schoolboy uniform that now defines his brand’s aesthetic. He studied business at Notre Dame, but felt called to the arts; he tried acting in Los Angeles for a few years, and spent time in between auditions altering vintage men’s suits and learning the art of tailoring from Libertine designer Johnson Hartig. His official introduction into the fashion business was a job in the Georgio Armani showroom in New York, and later as part of the design team for Ralph Lauren’s Club Monaco.
By the time he launched his label in 2001, Browne had a clear concept for his business. The years spent among California’s casual dress code only heightened his desire to provide a provocative interpretation of classic mid-century male style, impeccably tailored and undeniably cool. Browne’s designs were radical in a time when laidback fashion dominated. When everyone else is wearing jeans and a T-shirt, “actually putting on a jacket is the anti-Establishment.” He was and continues to be his own best spokesperson; at the start of his business, he made five versions of his signature suit and wore it all over New York to attract the attention of potential buyers. Browne remains devoted to the rumpled oxford shirt, skinny tie, shrunken blazer, and pants tailored above the ankle – a uniform of sorts also worn by those who work for him. Eventually, the naysayers were proved wrong when Browne connected with his target audience. Customers enthusiastically embraced his quietly innovative designs and appreciated the fine tailoring and craftsmanship.
Suit Ensemble (photo by AB Images)
Thom Browne, Fall/Winter 2013/14
Gift of Thom Browne, New York