THOM BROWNE is a fashion designer based in New York City best known for his clean tailoring and modern approach to a classic suit. His designs are avant-garde, sharp, distinct, and visionary. He’s been named Designer of the Year by GQ in 2008 as well as Menswear Designer of the Year by CFDA in 2006 and 2013. He’s worn by everyone from Michelle Obama at her husband’s inauguration, to Wiz Khalifa at the Golden Globes, to the late David Bowie in his last photo shoot. Both his designs and his personality show a brilliant cohesion of business and creativity. Browne clearly has the imagination and the academic background to make this possible, but what’s striking is how he truly embodies his brand. Or rather, his designs seem like a true reflection of himself.
PULSE: LOCATED IN THE HEART OF SILICON VALLEY, STANFORD IS TYPICALLY KNOWN AS A “TECHIE” SCHOOL. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR STANFORD STUDENTS HESITANT TO PURSUE THEIR PASSIONS IN THE ARTS AND HUMANITIES DUE TO EITHER PRESSURES TO STUDY IN THE STEM FIELDS, OR INABILITY TO FIND EMPLOYMENT AFTER GRADUATION?
TB: You have to be true to yourself. You have to do what you really love, and if you are not doing something that is really interesting to you because you’re afraid of what’s going to happen after school, you have a long life ahead of you. Even in the tech world, you have to be really artistic in regards to how you think and how you approach things. Anything, especially in school, that opens your mind to be thoughtful and to think differently and to entertain ideas, is really important.
P: SO YOU WENT FROM MAJORING IN ECON AND COMPETING ON THE NOTRE DAME SWIM TEAM TO DESIGNING YOUR OWN FASHION LINE. CLEARLY, IT MUST BE TRUE THAT YOU MAY NOT BE DOING THE SAME THING FOR YOUR ENTIRE LIFE. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR STUDENTS WHO ARE APPREHENSIVE ABOUT CHOOSING THEIR MAJORS IN COLLEGE?
TB: I think you should go into a study that is really interesting to you. Don’t worry about what’s going to happen after school, because life leads you in so many different directions. I entered into school as a Japanese studies major, and I couldn’t because I couldn’t go to Japan for a year because of swimming. And languages were something that have always been really interesting to me. And I was actually pretty good at languages, but I had to choose something else. I was majoring in something that I really wasn’t very passionate about. For the four years you have in school you should be learning as much as you can, and you should be learning something that you really love.
P: IN THAT CASE, HOW DO YOU FEEL YOUR ACADEMIC CAREER HAS HELPED YOU WITH YOUR FASHION CAREER, IF IT HAS?
TB: I don’t think it has at all. Education definitely helps, just in life. Specifically, I have a business that I run. I have a lot of people who help me. It didn’t directly influence my career.
P: ARE YOU GLAD THAT YOU WENT TO COLLEGE AND HAD THAT EXPERIENCE, OR DO YOU WISH YOU HAD GOTTEN INVOLVED IN FASHION EARLIER IN LIFE?
TB: Oh no, in life there’s a reason why everything happens. I don’t look back and regret any of it. I loved Notre Dame, I loved being there. It’s just that life after school was a very good education, too.
P: DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR STUDENTS LOOKING TO BREAK INTO THE FASHION INDUSTRY, ESPECIALLY GIVEN OUR LOCATION HERE IN CALIFORNIA?
TB: Depending on how serious you are about it, moving to New York is a good option. Or Paris, or LA. I think the most important thing, though, is interning in the business to see if you like it. Because you really have to like it to want to be in it. I was just saying that there are so many people who think it’s always glamorous, and everyone gets rich and famous, but that’s the furthest from the truth. And then if you really like it, you have to be somewhere where there really is some fashion. So move, and work in the world of fashion that you really love. And then just work hard.
P: CAN YOU TELL US ANY MORE SPECIFICS ABOUT YOUR TRANSITION INTO THE FASHION INDUSTRY?
TB: I graduated school, I had no clue what I wanted to do, so I moved to LA. I had a failing acting career, so I had a lot of free time and started playing around with vintage clothing. That’s how the initial interest in fashion started. And then from there, I knew if I wanted to get into fashion I’d move to New York. And then I just got a job in fashion.
P: WHERE DID YOU FIRST WORK?
TB: Giorgio Armani. I was an intern, and then the receptionist, and then I went into sales, and then through that job and a mutual friend at Ralph Lauren I got a job in design at Club Monaco.
P: WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST REWARDING PART OF IT ALL?
TB: I think just being able to create my own collection. Being able to do that every season is a real luxury, to be able to do something for yourself and to be able to sustain it. I love designing and to be able to do it is really great.
P: YOU MENTIONED YOUR INTEREST IN VINTAGE CLOTHING EARLIER. AS COLLEGE STUDENTS, WE CAN’T NECESSARILY AFFORD NAME-BRANDS. SO WHAT SUGGESTIONS DO YOU HAVE FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS ON A BUDGET WITH AN INTEREST IN DRESSING FASHIONABLY?
TB: Definitely having your own sensibility is really important. I went to vintage stores because I was in a similar boat, I couldn’t afford to buy clothes. Everyone moves to LA and gets rid of all their suits, so vintage stores were a treasure trove of old classic suits. But I think vintage stores are great for that because you can actually get really well-made clothes. But I think the most important thing is not how expensive things are, it’s having a true sense of your own style. And then you can create that with vintage clothing or less expensive clothing. People who can afford expensive clothing don’t always have the best taste. It’s really just having your own sense of style.
The important pieces of advice that I got from sitting down with Thom Browne and listening to his interview with Jay Fielden at the latest Fashion @ Stanford event are as follows:
Be you. Study what you love, roll with the punches, never quit. Don’t try and fight what you’re passions are. Doing what interests you will lead to a much more fulfilling life than simply succeeding at what might be lucrative.
Your major may change. You may do something completely unrelated to your major. It happens. Embrace the times as they change. Browne may have missed out on studying Japanese culture in college, but he brought his passion for it to his 2016 Spring/Summer Ready-to-Wear collection at New York Fashion Week.
Develop your own sense of style, and you can be fashionable with any sized checkbook. According to Jay Fielden, styling “takes so many things that are involved with what you do here at Stanford; studying things, being determined, having the energy to go after it, and being creative.” You don’t need to wear name-brands to be stylish.
Ignorance can be bliss. Browne expressed that sometimes “if you see amazing designers doing amazing things, it makes you think ‘how could I ever compete with that.’ And then why even try? But when you don’t know, you just do it, and it frees you up to create your own.”
If you try to be original, you won’t be original. You don’t just set out and think, “Hey, I’m going to do something original; I’m going to create something new.” It just happens, and the most original things just happen.
You have to network. Fielden stated that “it’s a world of making connections, fostering opportunities, and being smart about who you know and who they know.” And it’s that way with every industry.