Thom Browne
Photo by Dylan Don

Thom Browne: “You need to have conviction”

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Short Profile

Name: Thom Browne
DOB: 1965
Place of Birth: Allentown, Pennsylvania, USA
Occupation: Fashion Designer

Mr. Browne, would you say that men are generally fit too big?

I think guys don’t always realize that clothing that fits is actually more comfortable than clothing that doesn’t fit. I think guys do sometimes wear clothing that is too big.

Where do you think that people dress the worst? Airports? Banks? Hollywood?

You know, the world is so homogenized that I think there is good and bad all around the world. There’s not one place that’s specifically great and one place that’s specifically really bad. Americans don’t always look so good, but it’s not just one place…

Your fashion shows often take place in unusual locations and they always revolve around a certain topic. Why is this different approach so important for you?

I think everyone just sees so much and it’s nice to actually do something more memorable for people. Also, I get more interested in it when I have something more presentational and more theatrical. When you finish a collection it’s nice to give it a life after you’ve been spending so much time on it. So it’s just as much for me as it is for everybody else.

Is the normal type of runway show a bit boring for you?

I don’t know, it’s the way I do them.

A women’s collection can usually speak for itself, but a straightforward runway show of a men’s collection often fails to have an effect on people.

It’s nice to open people’s eyes. For me, it just makes it more interesting and it gives the clothing an interesting personality. You can always go buy the clothes, but it’s nice to make people think when you do a show.

You’ve said before that an outfit needs to be a little bit “off” in order to work. How come?

Well, especially in a show, you definitely want to make sure that there is something that opens people’s eyes and makes them think. But when you make something really seriously and you also show it seriously I think it becomes really boring. I think when you have something that just throws it off a bit it makes it more interesting.

Does that also count for your own look and the way you dress yourself?

I’ve been in the same thing from the beginning. This is what I like and this will never change. I really wanted to take tailored clothing for guys and make it not look so boring.

How did you approach that without having a formal design education?

It happened easily as life just kind of led me into it. Starting with an interest in clothing and playing with it myself, then actually getting with a tailor and starting to make clothes for myself, then the rest of it all just kind of happened.

These days it seems like it’s more important for a creative director to have a holistic vision rather than the fine technical skills necessary to carry it out.

I think pattern makers are some of the most underrated, undervalued people in fashion. They’re the people who are sometimes the geniuses in designing clothing. As a designer I think you just have to make sure you know what you want and stay true to it. You need to have conviction and really just want to make people think in regards to doing interesting things. So I don’t think anyone ever does it on their own.

Do you think that it might be to your advantage that you don’t have a background in the technical side of things and you can focus more on your overall vision?

Well I know exactly what I want in my head and that’s why it’s so nice to actually work with someone who knows how to do it technically. If I didn’t know what I wanted, then they wouldn’t know either. So the most important thing is to know exactly what it is before you start. I don’t have any preconceived ideas of what you can and can’t do. I think that you can pretty much do anything.

Collaborations with other companies are becoming more and more important for independent designers. Are they a good way of cashing in? Although yours has been very successful, having an expensive menswear label must be difficult at times…

I think my collection is doing really well, but collaborating is actually just a nice exercise in doing something different. For example, I do things very differently for Moncler that I wouldn’t specifically do for me. For me, I can do whatever I want. With other companies you have to stay responsible to them. I think I’ve been able to do really interesting things. It’s a totally different way of approaching design sometimes.

What is the weirdest collaboration somebody has approached you with so far?

I’m not going to tell you that! I have definitely had people approach me where it just wouldn’t work.

Come on, you can tell me.

Mr. Peanut was one, actually.

I don’t even know what that is.

It’s an American peanut company.

A peanut company?

They wanted to change the suit that Mr. Peanut wears.

That's funny. I guess suits are your signature pieces after all. But you recently have started to do women's wear as well. What is the difference?

I approach it the same. I want to introduce interesting new ideas – as new as I can – and I want to do more provocative, conceptual clothing for girls. For girls you can do a lot more. I want to keep it very tailored based, which is very true to my men’s. So I approach it very similarly, but I can actually push it further for girls, even though I push it pretty far for guys.

Is it easier for you to find inspiration for men because you have a closer relationship to those clothes?

Men’s is easier, men’s is definitely easier. Because I’m not a woman. Even just technically, making clothing for girls is more difficult, I think. I’m not really the best at dresses. (Laughs)