Photography by Mr Andrea Spotorno | Words by Mr Derek Blasberg
There's a prevalence of men showing bare ankles in fashionable circles these days, and we have one man to pin it on: Mr Thom Browne. The Allentown, Pennsylvania-born US designer, whose own rigid uniform is a testament to his bestselling aesthetic, rose to fashion fame when he started his own label in 2001. It was because of the new proportions he introduced to the men's market: tight, upright, proper suits that were just a wee bit shrunken. Whereas Mr Hedi Slimane's silhouette at his first spell at Dior Homme was tight yet subversive, Mr Browne's look is tailored yet seemingly conservative. In the years since his label debuted he's won such awards as the Council of Fashion Designers of America Menswear Designer of the Year and GQ's Designer of the Year. His shows are some of the most anticipated on the menswear fashion circuit: he has shown men in 18th-century inspired clothes for a royal feast in a ballroom in Paris; in New York he did a show inspired by the sport of tennis and showed suits paired with huge crinolines; in Florence, and this was perhaps my favourite show, he had 40 identically dressed men at a phalanx of desks looking more dapper than a whole season of Mad Men. For Mr Browne's most recent show in Paris, he presented a colourful collection of layered cropped jackets and short shorts in patchworks, neons and prepster appliqués. To welcome his eponymous label to MR PORTER, I caught up with the designer to talk about the convenience of wearing suits every day, political style and what he thinks makes for a snappy dresser.
When I first interviewed you 10 years ago, I wore a shirt and tie in the dead heat of summer because I was nervous you'd think I was a schlub if I didn't. I was a sweaty mess. Have you found that you often make men want to dress up?
I didn't know that! I thought that's how you always dressed. It's funny: people have told me that I make them want to put a suit on, which I take as a compliment. But, to be honest, what's important to me is that someone has their own style. Anyone who is confident in themselves is much more stylish. A well-dressed man doesn't have to be in a suit.
Phew. Good to know.
Style and taste aren't always the same thing, remember. But if someone is into something, be it skirts or graphic T-shirts, let them do it. More power to them. There just has to be a level of a taste.
You redefined what it means to have the modern, avant-garde men's fashion show. Was that always your intent?
It started from my desire to provoke guys to see a classic idea differently. To think in a new way about something they know very well. That's what all the collections are about, actually. And, I do like to entertain.
How long does it take for you to come up with the ideas behind your shows and collections?
Sometimes it takes five minutes. It's the ideas that are easy, but producing them is what takes time. The concepts also change as we make them; I let myself move and evolve as the collection comes together.
Are there ever moments when you're creatively blocked?
Yes, there are those times. It's like when a writer has writer's block. But for whatever reasons, it always works in the end, thankfully. The problem is having a fear of the creative block. If you're constantly open to inspiration, it will come to you. The worst thing a man can do is pressure himself into an idea.
Do you have any routines for getting inspired?
Watching old movies. Sitting in a park. Having a drink. Going for
So you're not exactly checking the blogs?
For me, inspiration is very rarely computer related. It's classic movies, old books, looking at people in the streets of New York. Sometimes it's just closing my eyes and waiting for an idea to come.
Have you ever looked at something you've done and thought, "Now, that's just too crazy"?
Yes. And that's when I know I should be doing it.
You're never timid or anxious about a show?
I do sit back every once in a while and think about it. I never want it to be offensive. I don't want to cross the line of it becoming too costume. I want it to be interesting. Provocative but not profane.
You just want a reaction.
Someone can hate the idea, or they can love it. I just don't want them to leave a show thinking, "That was nice". "Nice" isn't the reaction I desire.
You once explained to me that the men's suit is actually quite a simple uniform.
It takes me five minutes to get ready in the morning. I don't understand why some men think a suit is so difficult to wear when often it's the easiest thing to put together. I could get dressed in
Really? Five minutes?
Yes. Besides, I think it's nice to look as if someone didn't spend too much time getting dressed. Especially for a guy. Style is a lot more interesting when it looks effortless.
I once had a conversation with Ms Carine Roitfeld about how a suit can hide a lot of sins. Specifically, the example she used was that a politician, for the most part, always looks good in a suit. But it can be dangerous when you see them in their "daywear", such as in Hawaiian shirts and flip-flops on family vacations.
It's true. I think there's something very polished and powerful about a man in a suit. But still, some politicians look better than others, and that really comes down to fit. The suits don't always fit as well as they should, which is when the look falls apart.
What tips would you have for a man buying a suit?
The most important thing is the fit. Find someone who knows what they're doing, and then find what works for you and stick to it. Find the khakis that look best on you, work with a tailor that fits your clothing to you in the right way, and grow into yourself and your style. Once you've done that, everything becomes much easier.
So for you, it's about consistency.
There's something very confident about someone who looks as if they could wear the same thing every day.