Thom Browne Dishes on His Couture Debut, The Bear, and When He’ll Get His MET Retrospective


A couple hours before his debut couture show, Thom Browne is sitting in a stairwell in the grand Palais Garnier opera house in Paris. “You’re getting the real deal here,” he says over Zoom. An antique elevator trundles up and down and up again over his shoulder, presumably moving gowns and seamstresses and gray suit-clad employees. “It’s always the mad dash,” Browne says of the moments leading up to his shows. “Six months of work, and then it’s the mad dash to the end. It always comes together, though you question why everything is so chaotic. But it always works out.”

Pre-show chaos aside, Browne seems totally at ease in his sweater vest and tailored shorts. This year marks his 20th year in business, and the New York designer is at the height of his powers. He’s the reigning chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), has a primo spot on the Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week calendar, and looms large—to his apparent amusement—in The Bear. Sales are booming, too. The brand, which was acquired by Zegna in 2018, saw revenues increase from €264 million to €330 million in 2022.

Browne’s success, and tenure as an American fashion figurehead, all started with the simple gray suit. For his first haute couture presentation, Browne wanted to bring that gray suit into the rarefied world of Parisian high dressmaking. (Which is kind of what Browne does with all of his runway performances—the most surprising thing about his presence on the Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week calendar is that it hasn’t happened sooner.)

There were plenty of gray suits in the building—3,000 of them, in fact. Paper cutouts of men and women wearing the original Thom Browne suit filled the seats of the monumental opera house. The audience would take their seats on the stage, becoming part of the performance unfolding before them, a procession of models wearing increasingly elaborate interpretations of the suit that started it all, a pure distillation of his madcap creativity filtered through the traditions of couture craftsmanship.

Before the lights went down on his most ambitious show yet, Browne shared his thoughts on the market for men’s couture, when we can expect his MET Costume Institute retrospective, and Ayo Edebiri’s custom Thom Browne chef whites in The Bear.

GQ: Your runway shows are so heavily influenced by couture presentations, and there’s so much handiwork that goes into your collections. How will this show be different?

Thom Browne: It’s different in that it’s shown during couture. We all have taken on the responsibility and the respect and the honor of being on the calendar here. And in the same spirit, we’re heightening things to the levels to make sure that it feels worthy of being shown this week. Throughout the whole process, we all took a step back and appreciated what we do normally, because we do things at such a high level and we do shows that are at this level. So it’s taking what we do and making sure every single detail, every single piece that you see is worthy of being shown this week.

I understand the guests will be seated onstage at the opera house. Tell me about the flow of the presentation.

The idea of using the stage was easy for me. I think most people would have the show on the stage and have people sitting in the audience. I wanted to turn it around and have the actual audience sit on the stage to be part of the performance in a way. Just like every collection, l like people to feel like they are a part of what I do, to have their own interpretation of it and feel a part of it. And then the way I filled up the seats was by taking that gray suit and multiplying it 3,000 times, and that’s what you see in the seats—paper cutouts of men and women, in the classic gray suit that started 20 years ago.

I’m dying to know how someone gets 3,000 suited paper cutouts printed and seated in an opera house. It sounds like an undertaking comparable to making some of the clothing in the collection.

It was an undertaking in regards to finances. [Laughs.] And a lot of time. No, it was such a simple idea, but it took the financial commitment and the amazing production team I have that I’ve been working with for almost 20 y

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Thom Browne Dishes on His Couture Debut, The Bear, and When He’ll Get His MET Retrospective

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