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Thom Browne AW13 menswear show

Thom Browne on Amish barn raising

The designer brings religious rituals to Dover Street Market and talks pre-show drinking

It’s exactly a week until Thom Browne unveils his new womenswear collection in New York. In the past his shows have explored the surreal, the fantastical and the disturbing – models have emerged from wooden coffins, been chained to his sets and appeared on the runway wearing spike covered gimp masks. It's fair to say that Browne has mastered the balance between the ordinary and the unexpected, often imbuing his work with an inherent strictness and impeccable tailoring. Today he reveals his new window installation for London’s Dover Street Market, in which he’s reworked the wooden set from his AW13 show. Taking reference from Amish barn raising rituals in his hometown of Pennsylvania, he has once again created a minimal and haunting backdrop for his collection.

Dazed Digital: Do you have any strange rituals in the build up to your shows?

Thom Browne: It comes as it comes and usually involves drinking every night. There are never any rituals. I mean, I love this part, where the collections come together, but it’s definitely a lot of work. You never know what’s going to happen – today my shoes were cancelled. That’s not fun!

DD: What’s your drink of choice in these situations?

Thom Browne: Champagne. 

DD: You’ve just unveiled your new Dover Street Market installation. How did it develop from the AW13 show?

Thom Browne: Well, the non-literal reference is based on Amish barn raising. I’m not Amish, but I grew up in that same area of Pennsylvania and became very attracted to the inherent strictness and uniformity of that community. I think that’s what gave the collection it’s strength. The silhouettes were strong and strict.

Looking back, I think it was one of the more important shows I’ve ever done. It really explored the very concept of what the barn raising stands for. I liked the uniformity of the models being chained to the structure of the set, while the collection was making its way through. I think there was a good story between those two characters.

 I definitely don’t want men to look like girls and I don’t want girls to look like guys so there is that little bit of difference, but I don’t get too hung up on what's masculine and feminine.

DD: That strictness comes through in your work quite a lot - even if you’re playing with proportion or exaggeration – there is always an inherent strictness to it. It feels like it’s attached to tailoring somehow…

Thom Browne: Yes, it definitely is attached to tailoring but it’s also attached to so much more. I love the idea of things being strict and things being uniform. That’s the reason why I surround each collection with humour or irony. I want to make sure that it’s not too serious and that there is some element that throws it off because otherwise that would make it really boring. There’s always a story that’s somewhat fantastical. I think it makes the uniformity of it all far more interesting. 

DD: If you could collaborate with any artist or any creative on a set design who would it be?

Thom Browne: Probably Matthew Barney.

DD: Amazing.

Thom Browne: And Björk! I would want Björk around too. She would just sing to us as we go on set!

DD: Rei Kawakubo and Adrian Joffe have been big supporters of your work from the beginning. Has Rei influenced the way you approach design and the way you look at fashion?

Thom Browne: She approaches it exactly the way I do; I mean, I think she’s the most conceptual designer out there and the most important conceptual designer, and that is what is so inspirational about her. I like the way she approaches the Dover Street Market stores – it’s never commercially motivated. Of course there is the commercial part of it, and that’s another thing that she is a genius at too: being able to marry the conceptual with the commercial, better than anyone. She just approaches it from a really conceptual point of view and unfortunately that is a very rare thing these days. 

DD: She almost embraces it; she plays with this idea of branding, and consumerism as well which I think is fantastic.

Thom Browne: She embraces it and she’s not afraid of it, as opposed to most people that I think are afraid of conceptual design because they think it won’t be commercial. She embraces it and makes it commercial.

DD: I think there is a gender aspect that always comes up with your work, and I think that comes from the fact that you actually approach menswear and womenswear in quite a similar way; is that something you feel or do you see them as two quite separate entities?

Thom Browne: No, I do approach them similarly. That’s why I think you do see the crossover. I definitely don’t want men to look like girls and I don’t want girls to look like guys so there is that little bit of difference, but I don’t get too hung up on what's masculine and feminine.

DD: And how do you see them being interlinked, like the man and the woman?

Thom Browne: I think it really is tied together by almost the tailoring approach to both.

DD: With the menswear show in Paris this season there was this really amazing strict, military collection and you set it off with the make-up. I think that dynamic is really intriguing and disturbing in a strange way, you know?

Thom Browne: Yeah, I love making it seem that it’s not so ordinary – not so normal.