Thom Browne wants men to get the best from his clothes and to thrill crowds with their presentation. Yale Breslin questions him over his latest collaboration with Moncler and finds out how he brought fashion and alpine sport together.
There is a calm power that surrounds Thom Browne. With a strong demeanor and an even stronger sense of self, there is something to be recognized in the way this visionary carries himself. Confident but not over-bearing, he is engaging yet manages to keep his distance. His direct influence has geared the male dress code to a simplistic, tailor-made way-of-dressing – a transformation to doing things with class, respect and deep-rooted American ideals.
Walking into his West Chelsea studio – his designs are hung on an array of garment racks and perfectly illuminated by the 11th Avenue mid-afternoon glow. In walks Mr. Browne – clad in his characteristic grey-cropped suit, freshly shined black wingtip shoes with his black ankle socks exposing just enough skin to be considered appropriate…when paired with a suit. Thom Browne expresses much of what he wants to say with his eyes. His warmth and interest is uncanny, and his narrative is laced with education, literary gestures and an overall infused keen interest.
Dabbling in many different creative endeavors, Browne has been keeping busy managing a number of projects; a past collaboration with Harry Winston under his belt, Black Fleece, his Americana-induced collaboration with Brooks Brothers and his extraordinary partnership with Moncler, not to mention his own label.
Moncler, the Italian mountain sportswear brand best known for their quilted jackets, had approached Browne to collaborate on a unique project titled “Gamme Bleu”, which made its debut in January 2009 during Milan Fashion Week. “Gamme Bleu” is a collaborative effort between Browne and Mr. Remo Ruffini, the current president and creative director for Moncler. Browne was brought forward in an attempt to rework the eponymous quilted jacket, which is the defining characteristic of the Moncler brand. Gamme Bleu was born from Moncler’s women’s range, Gamme Rouge, currently helmed by Giambatista Valli. “I had a unique experience with every single designer I worked with” notes Ruffini. “And every time it was surprising to see the different approach that they had working on Moncler. Everyone has been able to give the brand their own vision, keeping the codes and the brand values. Thom has an extremely rigorous method of work and perfection is his main goal. This is very similar to my point of view,” says Ruffini.
Sports have always been an important element in Browne’s personal life – running on a daily basis, regardless of his locale. Sport, which can easily be identified in his Thom Browne collection as well as Gamme Bleu, often serves as the collections protagonist, as he meticulously toys with the idea of athletic wear in a dapper fashion. Not one to steer clear of risks and painting outside the lines – Browne’s collections, or rather spectacles, have critics in awe. Browne’s collections are executed in a fairly untraditional fashion – unique for a gentleman who prides himself on traditional aesthetic values. “I sometimes don’t expect the shows and presentations to be as good as they are,” notes Browne in a humble fashion. The Gamme Bleu debut was, for all intents and purposes, a feast for the senses – recreating an Alpine ski environment as a runway, complete with faux-snow and ski equipment. “Initially what we wanted, because it is real active wear, you should be able to go skiing and really use it out in the elements. I wanted to show people it could actually be used, and that is why we put them on a ski slope. Initially we wanted all the guys on skis, but that quickly became a huge safety hazard,” remarks Browne with a laugh.
Gearing up for his next collections presentation at the time of this interview, Browne ensures that it will be a unique experience. “What’s important for me is to not only focus on the collection, but to also give people an experience. Not just show the clothing on the guys, but I like the clothing to really be brought to life.”
The man who is noted for his form fitting suits, cropped trousers and shrunken jackets was smitten with the Moncler collaboration right off the bat. “Being able to marry the tailoring that I am known for and the active sportswear element that Moncler’s is known for was a great idea.” The relationship between Ruffini and Browne seems both respectful and dedicated. The way Browne speaks about Ruffini seems very real, often referring to him in a deity form. “He has amazing taste – is an amazing business person. He knows his brand and knows exactly what he does and does not want to do with it. He is just one of those rare, very successful, business people that are very focused and really know what they want and know what they had in the beginning and know how to build upon it without taking away the history of the brand”.
Reflecting on his career thus far, whether it’s his own label or the work he is embarking on for Moncler, Browne sums up his experiences as an incredible journey with peaks and valleys. “It has been so much fun, but it’s always been challenging with the business. The business is always the challenging part. Designing is the easy part. It’s actually making a real business of it that is the ultimate goal”. Browne continues, “I don’t really design from a commercial point of view, but as you’re growing, you really have to start thinking about it. You don’t have to lose that part of what you really love doing – you just have to build upon it, and ensure it is supported by the rest”.
With a last grin Browne takes a moment to reflect again on his experiences with Moncler, “It definitely wasn’t my biggest challenge to date – simply because they made it so easy”.
Photography: Greg Harris
Fashion: Way Perry
Words: Yale Breslin
A full version of this article first appeared in Wonderland #19, Sep/Oct 2009