48 Hours in Paris With Thom Browne



Slide Show

Two Days with Thom Browne Before His Men’s Show

CreditThibault Montamat


Walking into Thom Browne’s Paris headquarters is a little like walking back in time — into a midcentury world filled with men in permanently pressed and fitted two-piece suits with heavy brogues and clip-on ties. The designer’s universe unfolds in shades of gray, like a 1950s television series with the contrast turned way down. The gray of flannel mingles with washed-out cotton and seersucker and wool and cashmere and silk. Forget 50 shades of gray — Browne’s got about a thousand. It’s what he’s built his highly successful and enormously influential business around.

This week, Browne showed his men’s wear collection in Paris — as he has done for the last seven years. This fall, as another mark of his success and influence, the 51-year-old designer will move his women’s wear show (which accounts for around 35 percent of his business) from New York to Paris as well.

It’s a fitting backdrop: In Paris, after all, the light is sometimes gray too. It seems that way two days before Browne’s men’s wear show in the brand’s showroom on the elegant Avenue Hoche in the Eighth Arrondissement. The white rooms, dotted with frosted-glass windows, end up looking gray in the heavily filtered midafternoon light. Spots of color look almost fluorescent here: a packet of Advil; a candy-red-striped food container from the baker Eric Kayser; and a pair of tiny gold-plated baby shoes. The Advil and the baked goods make sense — eating a necessity and headaches an occupational hazard — but the baby shoes?

“It all started with these,” Browne says. They’re his own shoes from childhood; it’s a tradition in his family to dip a pair in gold and have them on display. “I was thinking about how we all start off the same — wearing almost the same clothes,” he says. “And then, it changes.”

At that point, a model walks in. He is wearing an elongated vest dress in gray wool twill over a sleeveless shirtdress. He’s balancing somewhat precariously on a pair of pointed wingtips with 3-inch heels. Browne steps over and adjusts the hem of the shirtdress. “It is a very straightforward idea,” the designer says softly of the look. “But it is very provocative.” He fingers the hem of one of these skirts and smiles. “Let’s not kid ourselves!”

For spring/summer 2018, Browne decided not to dress men as women, but to use traditionally feminine signifiers — dresses, skirts and heels — and offer them for men. Those golden baby booties — which later Browne encased like a religious relic in a glass vitrine on the runway during the show, are only the jumping-off point for this exploration of gender fluidity. Which might be a trite phrase, but appropriate to describe what Browne is doing. “I don’t really politicize my collections but really it’s about people being open-minded,” he says. “It’s amazing how it’s so simple and people are so closed-minded. ‘Oh no, I’ll never wear this.’ What is the big deal?”

It is a big deal. This collection is far more complicated than it looks. Every pattern has been specially cut to accommodate the different demands of a man’s body (the narrower hips, the wider waist, the repositioning of certain lumps and bumps). And while these clothes are utterly singular, and unlike any others in fashion, there are certain similarities between Browne and other designers.

Case in point: When I first visit Browne, a full 48 hours before his show, there is plenty of color in the spring collection, a sharp counterpoint against the gray room. Bright spots of pistachio, raspberry and primrose are woven into tweeds, and there are a few embroidered golden motifs based on Browne’s dachshund, Hector. By Sunday, the day of the show, all of the color had been cut — and only the dachshunds stayed. Like many designers, Browne changes his mind and reworks his collection radically in the frenzied race. “It was stronger that way,” he said backstage. “Somehow, it just seemed less… fashion.”

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