Law of Evolution

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by Grandin Donovan
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Thom Browne is a neat man, and his broad smile accents his clothing like an expertly folded pocket square. Even so, this rising New York tailor, originally from Allentown, PA, is anything but buttoned-up. His designs, which recently earned him a CFDA nomination for best menswear, have injected a much-needed shot of wit and mirth into the world of men's suiting. While many of his slim-cut suits, finely tailored in English wool with classic patterns or grey, black, and white, could work in the boardroom, he's not afraid to mix extremes. Short trousers have been a trademark since Browne debuted five years ago, and last spring featured unlikely juxtapositions such as his snowboarder suits, which trade Velcro closures for buttoned cuffs and zippered flies, or his nylon football jersey mesh dinner jacket, which took "a fabric every guy is familiar with, and made it into something beautiful." Earlier this week, Browne spoke with Refinery29 about his work and where it's headed.
What are some of your bigger influences, in terms of what you're doing now?
Real people on the street. Old men who've been wearing the same clothing for 50 years—and they still look good. That's the most inspiring to me. It's never people in our industry, it's just real guys who look put together, and look cool in an effortless way.

I want to do something that will bring clothing back to younger guys, because I feel like so many have gotten away from it.

What first drew you to menswear?
Really, it was just out of wanting it for myself. What guys have been given in the past 10 to 20 years has been filtered down into just a commodity. I want to do something that will bring clothing back to younger guys, because I feel like so many have gotten away from it. [I wanted to] give it to them in a way that was interesting, in a way that they wanted to wear it, that wasn't so fussy.
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What sort of design elements do you like to play with?
Sometimes too many people are afraid to introduce new things to guys. I like the idea of playing with men's clothing. Definitely with proportions, with different fabrics...with really almost couture womenswear ideas. Honestly that's the only thing within fashion that I'm ever really inspired by— working button holes, covered buttons, just the way that it's made sometimes. Using a women's sickeningly expensive beaded fabric...[He takes out a men's suit made of sequins and beads woven onto nylon mesh, referencing a glam chain-mail]. For me, I just saw this as a grey fabric. But the work that goes into that is amazing, so much so you can't really make more than one.
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Who wears Thom Browne?
A guy that is a true individual, and is unique in how he lives his life and is very confident with himself. It's not really an age, because I have customers who are mid-20s to early-80s. It's a guy that is youthfully spirited and doesn't need a label to make him wear something.

I don't pay attention to what is being done out there. I just love doing my thing, and that's pretty much it.

Who or what do you see as some of the greater influences on menswear these days?
I'm the wrong person to ask, 'cause I don't really know. I don't pay attention to what is being done out there. I just love doing my thing, and that's pretty much it.
What's your own uniform?
Grey suit, white shirt, and grey tie. Usually a cardigan. This is a good old grandfather's herringbone. Most of my ties are made out of the same fabric as the suits, because my initial idea was to give ties back to guys. Ties always drew so much attention to themselves, and that's why I feel like guys stopped wearing them. Doing it this way, it just finishes the outfit.
What other designers do you wear?
I don't wear anything else.

In a way, I think there's nothing worse than guys going out and buying fashion.

How do you see your label evolving?
That's exactly the right word to use—it definitely will evolve, and in a way I won't even know until I start a collection. But it won't change. I think that's the problem sometimes with design. Somebody gets to know what you're about and then, all of the sudden, next season it's changed, and the customer who found it is not getting what he found. What I feel like in doing this is, "I've been looking for this forever," and when someone finds it I want to make sure that there is always something for that guy. It will always evolve in adding more to what this guy needs in regard to his life. It's not just clothing, it can be so much more. I introduced shoes this fall. [Other] new things were the puffer jackets and long trenchcoats, which is very new because most of my things are on the shorter side. And then just new knits and bow ties.
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Where does Thom Browne fall between casual and dress?
It can be everything, that's the whole point of my collection—that there is never any differentiation between clothing and sportswear; it's pretty much all one.
Anything else to add?
The most important thing for me, and for guys to see, is that it's seriously handmade clothing that has a very young spirit to it, and should never be taken seriously. Just as guys are comfortable in jeans and t-shirts, they should be comfortable wearing this. It's more of a mindset than a collection of clothes. In a way, I think there's nothing worse than guys going out and buying fashion. I don't see this as that—I see it as just, this is how a guy should live.
For more information, go to www.thombrowne.com.
Whether his client is 20 or 80, the newly CFDA-nominated designer Thom Browne takes the fuss out of menswear.
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