Few designers can be evoked by a single silhouette. Thom Browne, with his stunted suits, is among them. The designer's idiosyncratic menswear revolution — and his dramatic forays into womenswear — made him a particularly fitting choice to sit down with respected fashion critic Robin Givhan (Daily Beast, New York Magazine) on Monday night at Manhattan's French Institute Alliance Française for the finale of its popular Art de Vivre series of fashion talks.
Browne took the stage dressed in the silhouette that has made him an icon of contemporary menswear, flashing a solid four or five inches of bare calf — a sartorial choice echoed by many of the men in the audience. Over the course of the evening, the designer discussed his journey from the first gray suits he made for himself in 2001 to the theatrical runway shows that have earned him a place among America's most provocative designers.
He began by recalling the early days, when he worked out of his apartment and even friends would ask, "Why would I want a suit from you when it doesn't even fit you?" Though his message has since been embraced by the fashion world and beyond, Browne admitted he still feels most comfortable when pushing boundaries — to the point of scaring himself. "I want to open people's eyes that fashion isn't just what you see on the street," he said of his experimentation.
Givhan, who once compared a women's look of Browne's to "quinceañera finery," made several attempts to draw him out. True to form, however, he remained resolutely coy. When asked how he sketches, he demurred "conceptually." On dressing First Lady Michelle Obama for her husband's inauguration, he only revealed: "I wanted her to look like the strong woman she is. I wanted her to look like the confident woman she is. And I wanted her to look good with her husband — I guessed he'd be wearing navy."
But kudos to Browne for staying on-message, as he has done since he launched the line in response to the sloppily dressed bankers he saw on Wall Street. "We were living in a time of dress-down Fridays," Browne said of his decision to strike out on his own. "Wearing a suit was the cool thing to do because you're not like everyone else."