When “Sunday Morning” first met up with Thom Browne more than two years ago in Paris, at his studio in view of the Eiffel Tower, the fashion designer was putting the finishing touches on a collection he’d unveil the very next day.
“The pressure’s on?” asked correspondent Alina Cho.
“Yeah,” he replied, “and I’m very competitive.”
Twenty-four hours later, he introduced a world that was uniquely Thom Browne.
At its core: a highly-theatrical feast-for-the-eyes fashion show that Browne is known for, the kind of event that draws A-List celebrities like rapper Cardi B., whom Browne dressed for the 2019 Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Cho asked Cardi, “How did you feel in that gown?”
“A little heavy, but I just felt amazing,” she replied. “I felt so confident. It was beautiful. It was bold.”
But who is this curiously dressed, somewhat shy American in Paris?
Thom Browne grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, the middle child in a family of seven kids who all played sports. Thom was a swimmer.
Cho asked, “What does your family think about what you do?”
“I think they just get a kick out of it,” Browne said. “And I think, like me sometimes, you know, ‘How did that ever happen?'”
Almost by accident! He came to New York (where he still lives today), and worked as a salesman for Giorgio Armani, and then as a designer at Ralph Lauren, where he learned success in fashion is largely driven by creating a signature look.
So, in 2001, Thom Browne reimagined the classic men’s suit.
“I was doing something that nobody cared about, and people said that to me.”
“You thought it was a great idea, but nobody else did?” Cho asked.
“No. No, I mean it took almost three years for even the first stores to even entertain the idea of what I did.”
The Thom Browne shrunken suit eventually caught on, though according to Vanessa Friedman, chief fashion critic at The New York Times, “People thought it was really weird. I mean, really, like, who wants to see, you know, four inches of a guy’s ankle?”
He was, she said, “the first breakout menswear designer that America has produced in decades.”
Cho asked, “What sets Thom Browne apart?”
“His originality,” Friedman replied. “Most of the time, you look at an image from a show or collection and you think, ‘Oh, nice skirt.’ And then you go onto the next one. You know, Thom’s pictures are very, very hard to forget. And they are crazy. And they are extreme. And sometimes they are disturbing. And sometimes you really hate ’em. But, you remember them.”
Browne has dressed everyone from Michelle Obama (at her husband’s second presidential inauguration), to singer Katy Perry (at President Joe Biden’s first).
He has a huge following among athletes, like LeBron James.
He’s so successful that, in 2018, the fashion designer with no formal training sold a majority stake in his company for an estimated $500 million.
Browne said, “I have never designed addressing what the trends are or what’s going on right now. I’ve always designed almost selfishly for myself.”
Even now, at a time when other fashion brands are folding, Browne is expanding. He’s launched a kids’ line, and says sales at his company are up because more people are “dressing up.” “I’ve been through the dress-down generation, I’ve been through the streetwear generation, I’ve been through all of it,” he said. “And I’ve never changed the way that I’ve approached my collections. They’re not coming to me for dressing down!”
Just two days ago, Browne was at it again, with another fashion-as-theater show featuring one of his unconventional signatures: men in skirts.
“I love the idea of men entertaining different things for themselves, or just opening their eyes to different ideas,” he said.
Cho asked, “But you don’t personally know what it’s like to wear a skirt, or have you tried one on?”
“I have actually never tried one on!” he laughed.
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Story produced by Jay Kernis. Editor: Lauren Barnello.