Like Rick Owens, and on the side of womenswear, Vivienne Westwood and Betsey Johnson, Thom Browne is the best advertisement for his own clothing.
Ever since he started his ankle-bearing, flood-defying menswear line, he has taunted the sensibilities of those that hold the suit and office wear sacred and inviolable. Until today, he says that both he and his clients get second looks from strangers because of what they're wearing.
But what Thom Browne has done is remove the limiting blinders of men on what they can and should wear, on what they're allowed and not allowed to express. It is remarkable how he has done this by keeping within the confines of masculinty, while every now and then taking a jab at its limits.
Thom Browne, in an interview with GQ Style: Well, yes, in a way, because I'm going to do what I'm going to do, and I'm going to do it regardless of how people are going to react. I'd like to be referred to as a designer who wants to do something important and unexpected, someone who ruffles a few feathers, perhaps - that you like what I do, or you don't. And if people see that as radicalism, then so be it. I'd rather that than be labelled a predictable designer...
Doing so in the subtlest and simplest of ways. Even if he is regarded as a showman after his theme-driven runway presentations (more on this further on), I think he has only used the catwalk to underline the true silent revolution that he has brought via the most basic of elements: cut, length, and fabric.
Others have charged him with a lack of inspiration - that he is not that significant to the world of men's fashion, as say, Hedi Slimane, Marc Jacobs, or Lucas Ossendrijver for Lanvin. His outfits are just derivatives of the office uniform. Critics apparently do not see the value in that.
Thom Browne: In the end I guess what I love most is the uniformity of it, but I also love the confidence and masculinity a good suit can bestow upon a man. There's also something very attractive about a man displaying the confidence and discipline involved in choosing to wear the same thing every day - not literally the same, of course, but I personally find that adhering to a certain set of rules, a dress code, just makes my life easier. I don't need to think too much about what to wear each day. I guess in this way my suit almost becomes a uniform. I'm a very structured person and I like to know what I'm getting.
When I designed my first suit I wanted it to be timeless. I wasn't setting out to create fashion; I wanted to produce well-made clothing that young guys - young in spirit, as well as in age - would get into and want to wear. I didn't necessarily want it to become a trend, as trends are rarely timeless, though it seems that many people have tried to turn what I do into a trend. My collections always evolve, but you will always see the grey suit at the heart of everything I do, and that's never going to change.
On the financial crisis:
All these ambitious young men with MBAs and diplomas in international financial bullshit considered themselves too clever and too creative to be bound by the strictures of outmoded clothes. But, as we know, the truth is that, along with their pinstripes, they abandoned most of their good sense and caution. My theory is that if the financial world were still run by stripe-suited old buffers, we might not be in the mess we are in today; and, though I am probably a lone voice, I reckon that the quickest way to financial recovery would be for the Government to demand that, henceforth, all men working in the City wear three-piece pinstripe suits.
On his own wardrobe:
I have numerous striped suits and, far from finding them a restrictive uniform, I view them as liberating. Not as formal as a navy suit, yet more dignified than a check, the striped suit should be among a man's best friends.
I like the use of colours other than navy with the fine white stripe, and fabrics other than worsted. One of my most useful suits is a three-piece navy flannel with a faint pink pinstripe. In fact, you might say that I am addicted to striped flannel. To me, a chalkstripe flannel suit is among the most elegant of day clothes: in grey, worn with brown suede, elasticated, slip-on punched Oxfords and a clove carnation in the buttonhole, it strikes a note of raffish Terry-Thomas glamour.
It's not for nothing that the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) named Thom Browne Menswear Designer of the Year in 2006 and GQ awarded him as the Designer of the Year in 2008.
He continues as a moving force not just in American menswear, but in international fashion in general.
The following images were documented by street style photographers, mostly by Scott Schuman, and some from Facehunter, Altamira, and Japan's Style Arena, showing actual Thom Browne suits and how his influence has generally been felt.
Here is Thom Browne himself, jogging in Central Park, while being interviewed by Style.com.
An editorial spread from GQ Style 8 Spring-Summer 2009, featuring Thom Browne's main line. Styled by David Bradshaw
Tuxedo suits, dinner shirts, silk bow ties, wingtip shoes: all Thom Browne; socks, Pantherella; cigarette case, Dior Homme
'Power lines' from GQ Style 8 Spring-Summer 2009, featuring Thom Browne's designs for Black Fleece by Brooks Brothers. Styled by David Bradshaw
Pinstripe suit, shirt, tie: all Black Fleece by Brooks Brothers
Black Fleece store in West Village, New York. There's also one in Regent Street, London
More street style pictures:
Here are some images of Thom Browne's show at the annual Pitti Immagine Uomo in Florence. Instead of presenting various looks, the designer stuck to one - and multiplied it across a room of workers to resemble offices of old, with only desks and coat stands, and without cubicles.
Where the painful reality of being a drone among other drones is obvious.
The presentation seems ironic, not only because of the current state of world economies, but because of the fact that most of fashion has been concerned with individuality and the expression of each personality.
Thom Browne says that the primary message that he wanted to communicate was that in a sea of uniformity, the most basic differences between people stand out.
Do you suppose this is behavior? Mannerisms? Things you can only find out through actual conversation?
If so, it seems Browne has played a joke on the fashion world, since these are what really make a person different, over and above his or her outfit - even if they unavoidably leave an imprint.
Of course it can go the other way around: repetitive labor is bound to make a person dull and no different from the occupier of the next seat. Sadly, I believe this is often the case.
But if fashion is a tool to give people license to express things about themselves that a tie and a suit cannot communicate, doesn't the eye become too quick and the tongue and the mind too lazy or lulled to further investigate?