March 21, 2017

The Master Showman

WWD – Thom Browne, the designer with the shrunken suit silhouette, has changed the face of American men's wear.

The Master Showman

Sixteen years after introducing his truncated suit with the high-water pants, Thom Browne is still raising eyebrows.

For his fall show in Paris in January, the designer sent out a snail-like procession of male models, first in onesie suits made of Harris Tweed — their differing styles delineating only by tiny pompoms that marked out lapels, zippers, pockets and buttons. All the models wore Harris Tweed caps, while some had shirt sleeves that dragged to the floor. Then came the same models in oversize pattern pieces. They came out a third time in reconstructed coats and suits.

This production followed a spring show that was reminiscent of “Jaws” with a collection that drew its inspiration from a wetsuit and featured a model circling imaginary waters in a shark mask and extra-drop crotch suit with a fin attached to the back.

Over the years, the designer has created scenes from a gentleman’s club to the first American Thanksgiving as backdrops to his shows. And although the elaborate presentations — which are among the mostsought after tickets in fashion every season — change each time, Browne has managed to stay true to his unique aesthetic.

“As conceptual as I get, I will never compromise or jury-rig something together just to force shock value,” he has said.

Since launching his own brand, Browne has made it clear that while his runway designs may be eye-popping, he also knows a thing or two about men’s wear. An Allentown, Pa., native with a penchant for running, swimming and acting, he received a business degree from Notre Dame before moving to New York in 1997 as a salesman at Giorgio Armani’s showroom. He was soon poached by Ralph Lauren Corp., where he was tapped to lead the creative team for its Club Monaco division.

He left in 2001 to launch the Thom Browne label and it didn’t take long for the industry to come around. By 2006, Browne had been recognized by the Council of Fashion Designers of America as its Menswear Designer of the Year, an award he won again in 2013 and 2016. He was named designer of the year by GQ magazine in 2008 and snagged a National Design Award from the Cooper Hewitt in 2012.

His rising prominence led to a successful eight-year stint at Brooks Brothers, where he created and designed the Black Fleece collection from 2007-15. In its heyday, the line had a reported volume of $10 million and three stand-alone stores.

He’s also the designer of the Moncler Gamme Bleu line.

By 2009, when his own brand had sales of $6.3 million, Browne had attracted the attention of Japan’s Cross Company, which purchased a majority stake in the business.

The relationship with Cross continued through last year when Sandbridge Capital, a private equity firm whose backers include Tommy Hilfiger and Domenico De Sole, acquired the controlling stake, while Stripe, the successor company to Cross, retains a small interest. At that time, the business is believed to have annual sales of more than $60 million.

“Thom is a force in the fashion world. He is one of the most talented designers in the industry. He changed the way men wear tailored clothing,” Hilfiger said at the time.

Under the new owners, plans call for expanding Browne’s wholesale and retail network in the U.S., Europe and Asia, and seeking opportunities in e-commerce and licensing. And although his reach is sure to become longer in the future, one thing is certain, Browne will always march to his own drummer.