Ever since moving his fashion shows from New York to Paris in 2010, Thom Browne continues to deliver alternate worlds that can be simutaneously fanciful and unsettling. Season after season, as guests arrive to each venue, it is as though he has dreamed up yet another dimension where something unreal is sure to unfold. But if the pandemic abruptly woke us up from these fantasies, it didn’t stifle Browne’s imagination.
In 2004, the designer debuted his eponymous brand at New York Fashion Week; and ever since, he has developed a loyal following, flexed his creative muscles with numerous collaborations, and received myriad awards. In 2011, he made the foray to womenswear, transposing his tailoring background into a compelling new wardrobe. On the business front, Ermenegildo Zegna acquired an 85 percent stake in the company in 2018.
In an animated conversation over Zoom, he offered details about his Fall-Winter 2021 collection, presented as a video starring ski champion Lindsey Vonn. In true Thom Browne fashion, she became the protagonist of a Super-G style snowy magical story made with couture-built tuxedos.
How did this collection begin?
I had this image of seeing Lindsay just jumping out of a helicopter and skiing in a tuxedo. That simple idea turned into working with her and just having her in couture-level clothes. Then the idea of extreme sports mixed with extreme tailoring did the rest. An all-black-tie collection is almost a commentary to the world we are living through; everybody seems to want more casual clothes, so I thought it would be more interesting to show something that is much more fantastic – and that is, in fact, the exact opposite of dressing down. I felt like it would have made a great play of the mix between the idea of sportswear, formalwear and tailoring all coming together.
How did you arrive at the French cuffs that turned into a very sporty look inspired by the long sleeves of running apparel?
It was really important to add a real sportswear feel to the collection. Because it is being so formally and seriously created in regards to quality and level of construction, I thought that the suggestion of a utilitarian sports reference was also really important to see. And then, of course, it played into the story of Lindsay skiing. I have to say that this is one of the hardest collections I have ever created – not really to design but to actualize. The biggest challenge this year has been making sure that you can get things made, especially at this level of detailing. I have a team that I bring over from Tokyo for most of my collections and I couldn’t this year, so I had to work remotely with them; and then we almost put together a whole new team here in New York to work with the design team. It was complicated but I’m really happy with the results.
The show feels emotional despite not having a live show – seeing it through images or videos. Do you still believe fashion is alive – that you should see it come to life on the catwalk?
I can’t wait to get back to in-person events because nothing can replace seeing things live. But I also think that it’s been a challenge for all of us to try to figure out how to create the emotion, and I feel that you can get a good sense of it in the story of this film.
Before the pandemic, the fashion system was generally a bit hesitant to change formats drastically. Now it has happened – we tried – but eventually realised that clothes on the catwalk will always express emotions best.
One of the most important things in the collection is showing men’s and women’s together again – even playing more in regards to making sure that it was just beautiful pieces of clothing on the body regardless of whether they were being worn by a man or a woman. So, I feel like it’s getting more and more important that people really start seeing fashion just as beautifully made clothing.
The video is filmed in black and white. Apart from the gold lamé dress and boots Lindsey Vonn wears just once, is the collection also only in black and white, or are there any other colours?
Everything is in black and white except for Lindsay’s dress, I found it interesting to add just one piece of colour. I loved the idea of a two-tone wardrobe, especially because there’s such a new modern way of approaching this whole world right now. The idea of pulling everything back is like a reminiscence of the past inspired from the feeling of ’30s or ’40s Hollywood movies.
Do you have favourite piece in the collection?
I can’t say there’s really a favourite piece. The whole collection shows the idea of proportions because they are very interesting and special, and then there are certain pieces that were key to the story – the first girl that Lindsay sees coming off the helicopter, or Lindsay’s golden dress, for example. The mix of a couture-level gown with the strict tailoring that she has underneath is also relevant to me. But it’s difficult, I can’t give you a direct answer.
Why did you decide to work with Lindsey Vonn?
She’s a superstar athlete, and athletes are always so inspiring to me. So, as I wanted an extreme skiing point of view, I thought, who better to work with than one of the most iconic ski athletes? She is such a pro and she was really special to work with.
As the situation in the world is very complicated, what message would you share with everyone right now?
I’m very hopeful for the future, and I think that the collection does evoke a real hopeful message, especially in regards to the story and the film where she really enjoys and appreciates being at home with her friends and family. I think that it is what I feel right now. It has not been the easiest year for everyone, and the most important thing now is to focus on what we can do, not to dwell on what we can’t do.
As black tie is something for events and special evenings, the concept itself is something we hope to will be possible soon, rather than sitting on the couch.
Also, too! Everybody is really looking forward to true and pure creativity. And as designers, this is our responsibility: to concentrate on creating the most beautiful, creative and provocative ideas to make people look forward to having something to aspire to.
And further to your response above, what gives you hope now?
I have to say that work has been very fulfilling to me. I think for all of us to have something so important and special to be able to work on; being able to be surrounded with good people; and to have a nice home. The one thing we’ve learnt this year is to give more value to simple things, and definitely not to take the simpler things for granted. I think that that’s really hopeful.