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Interview by James Tarmy
Feb. 13 (Bloomberg) -- Thom Browne could not be more different from the severe suits that made him famous.
Walking me through his blindingly white studio, he was almost disconcertingly pleasant. This came as a surprise, given his reputation as a perfectionist and the circus-level pageantry of his shows.
A small pack of willowy eastern-European models milled about, waiting to be cast for his Autumn/Winter 2012 women’s fashion show that takes place today.
Browne is 47, though he looks 10 years younger. He designs his own clothing label, the Black Fleece line for Brooks Brothers Inc., and Moncler’s Gamme Bleu collection.
While each of these is distinct, it’s apparent to even the most casual observer that every piece he designs is a Thom Browne creation. (His last show drew headlines for its Herman Munster style menswear.)
We spoke about his aesthetic, his fashion shows and why a well-made gray suit will never go out of style.
Tarmy: How can you be this relaxed a few days before your show?
Browne: Well, now is when I get to do what I really like to do: I get to see the clothes, have them around, really live with them -- because once the show is over, the clothing goes away forever, off into the world.
Tarmy: In your actual fashion shows, though, the clothing almost seems beside the point.
Browne: When I do my shows I want people to see the clothing, of course, but I also want them to see the story I’ve created about the clothes.
And I like to put my clothes in a setting that makes viewers remember it. Which is why my shows are unlike anything else you’ll see in the world.
Tarmy: Do people actually wear the looks that go into your shows?
Browne: That question drives me crazy: “Who’s going to wear that?” Well, first of all, maybe there is somebody who’s actually going to wear one of the runway looks, I’d say around 85 percent of what’s in the shows is actually bought.
But more importantly, the 40 looks that you see in every show are there to make you think differently about a varsity jacket, think differently about a cardigan sweater. They’re presented in a fairly avant-garde way to open your eyes.
Tarmy: Who are your customers?
Browne: My business started out as a made-to-measure, custom suit business, and that’s still a big part of what I do. When I started, my clients were mostly artists; now my client base is across the board. I have bankers, attorneys, architects, actors.
Tarmy: It’s hard to imagine bankers coming to you -- isn’t the Wall Street uniform an ill-fitting American suit?
Browne: That’s changing. I think guys are more in tune with looking better, and appreciating quality. And you get one guy in the office dressed in my clothes, and it makes everyone else start to think “Oh I guess I should try a little harder.”
Tarmy: Would you ever create a suit for someone that breaks with your aesthetic? Like a suit with a pant leg that breaks?
Browne: Some people think I tell my customers that their suits have to be cut really short, and that’s just not the case.
With that said, I never want my suits to lose their sensibility. If someone is buying a suit from me, they should really like it, and they should feel comfortable in it. And if they want to get something different, I would rather tell them where to go than have them not come to me at all.
Tarmy: So part of your bespoke services is as a stylist, not just a tailor?
Browne: I think that’s what a good salesperson is: someone who advises the customer, and who asks: “What do you like?” It’s important to make your customers think about themselves, about what their true style is.
Tarmy: But what if their true style is terrible?
Browne: It’s the responsibility of the salesperson. They have to know about the clothing, and know how clothing should fit. I can only do so much. I can’t force customers into the clothes. But it’s usually enough once someone sees the way that my clothing fits him.
Tarmy: Is there such a thing as American style?
Browne: No, I think the world has been too homogenized. Everyone has access to everything. I think Tokyo is the one exception. It’s the only place where people have true originality and confidence in the way that they dress.
Tarmy: You’ve had such a profound impact on the way men wear suits. What’s next?
Browne: Every six months I move that gray suit up, down, sideways, all over the place. It doesn’t ever need to change, and it won’t ever change. It will always be a well-made suit that fits well.
The Thom Browne New York Autumn/Winter 2012-13 Women’s Collection show is at New York Public Library. Information: www.thombrowne.com/
(James Tarmy writes for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
--Editors: Mark Beech, Jeffrey Burke.
To contact the writer on the story: James Tarmy in New York at Jtarmy@gmail.com.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at email@example.com.