Fairy tales and fantasies: an interview with fashion designer Thom Browne
In his shows fashion designer Thom Browne tells stories in unforgettable pictures. For MADAME he also puts his creative visions into words for once
When mannequins appear with animal masks or models on skates, one has very probably landed at one of Thom Browne's unconventional fashion shows. The 53-year-old American thinks in strong images that he mixes like collages. He doesn't like to read, and words don't inspire him, he says in an interview. He prefers to let his presentations speak.
For the Spring/Summer 2019 collection défilé during Paris Fashion Week, he built a maritime fantasy land through which his majestic creatures such as stranded mermaids and sailors walked. What was later broken down for the stores into accurately cut cardigans, blazers and blouses, was here dismembered, shredded, reassembled and decorated with sequined whales. Some models had their arms tied to their bodies; some wore masks reminiscent of a pineapple, water balls or ice cream cones and Hannibal Lecter at the same time. A crazy collection between humor and horror, glamorous and absurd. But even these are just words.
Madame: How are the stories for your fashion shows created?
Thom Browne: Sometimes my ideas come from a movie or a work of art. Then I try to create a story that is unique and tells something interesting about the season.
Madame: You have no art in your studio and you do not work with mood boards. Why?
Thom Browne: Privately I love portraits of artists from the late 19th and early 20th century. They influence me, but they don't appear on mood boards, that's limiting. Just having ideas in your head makes you more open.
Madame: During your fashion show, two children sat next to me, enjoying themselves as if they were in a fairy tale film. Do you also want this attitude from adult guests?
Thom Browne: I'd really like that. I want my fashion shows to be fun and not too intellectually loaded. I find it difficult to explain my collections in words. I am a visual person.
Madame: So it restricts your imagination when you try to analyze your collections?
Thom Browne: I don't mind if someone approaches my collections with intellectual thoughts, but imposing those thoughts is frustrating. My ideas are curious and almost childish. I appreciate someone politicizing my catwalk designs, for example, but it's not my thing. I see intellectuality more in proportions and cuts.
Madame: Your collections are often described as "dark fairy tales". Do you agree?
Thom Browne: I like the idea that something that is not so pleasant can be very interesting.
Madame: Is that also true of the women who wear your clothes?
Thom Browne: I hope that they feel self-confident and unique in everything they wear. Nothing is more inspiring.
Madame: You started with classic men's tailoring and strongly influenced it. What is your vision for women's fashion?
Thom Browne: I also want to change the art of tailoring for women. And to renew people's view in such a way that a suit is nothing more that you put on just for work.
Madame: Do you think it's right to speak of a "masculine look" for a woman in a suit?
Thom Browne: That really bores me a lot. Good tailoring looks beautiful and feminine on women. On the other hand, the same applies to men: It can look very masculine when a man wears something feminine.
Madame: In addition to the commercial collections, you can also sell the extraordinary catwalk creations in limited quantities. Which customer do you have in mind?
Thom Browne: A woman who understands how special the pieces are. It's probably the same woman who is excited about the suits from the commercial collection - but of course the catwalk collections are a little more expensive.
Madame: It is often criticized that women's fashion changes too quickly. What do you think?
Thom Browne: That's actually the problem with women's couture. My fashion should develop and build on each other. It would be disappointing if a customer sees something that no longer has anything to do with what she has already come to know from me. I think the idea of dealing with trends is the main problem. "Trend" is such a terrible word. You should design what you want to see on people.
Madame: You often receive good reviews in the industry. How do they influence a new collection?
Thom Browne: When people like my work, it's nice. But if not, then not. The approach to my collections is very personal. That's why I don't pay attention to what other designers do.
Madame: The subject of uniforms has always been part of your fashion. What fascinates you about it?
Thom Browne: It's so charming and confident when someone has their own uniform. It gives me the feeling that a person is thinking about much more than just their outfit. That's interesting! And the conversations with this person are probably the same.
Madame: You once said, "There's a world of colors within gray." What do you mean by that?
Thom Browne: Put simply, there are so many shades of gray. But for me, grey is above all a timeless color that always looks good and never follows a trend.
Madame: But sometimes it does appear in trend reports.
Thom Browne: Then that's the only trend I really don't mind.
Interview by Lisa Riehl
Thom browne, 53
was born in Pennsylvania and studied economics before he finally found his way to fashion and New York via acting. In 2001 he founded his own label with five suits. Typical uniform: perfect jackets to cropped trousers. Since 2011, he has been designing a women's line that now accounts for 35 percent of sales.