Kempt Woman: Thom Browne’s Debutante Debut

Photographer John Francis Peters
May 25, 2011

For Thom Browne’s most recent show this past February, his second-only for women, models dressed in full nun’s habits walked with their heads bowed around an old oak-interior room at the New York Public Library. The columns of black religious robes mostly covered the clothes Browne had thought up for the fall collection. Anticipation rested in what was underneath those frocks, the chance of glimpsing some scandalous secret or bare skin hidden beneath the piousness. But after a decade of famously outfitting men in suits that leave only an ankle bare, overexposure is not Browne’s style. And it seems he feels no differently about the female body, which he’d prefer to be covered entirely in avant-garde artistry, disrobed to reveal layers and layers of stiff wools and furs that were wrapped and done up in spherical structures.

“The idea of not revealing too much is sexier than showing too much,” says Browne. “I am not a believer in overt sexiness.” Browne chose a ’60s uptown church lady silhouette as a starting point for his far-out tricks, bold in an industry that treats sex appeal as the ultimate ideal. That’s not to say the line is boring or even tame: his spring collection tucks the female form behind columns of firm plaid and prints that may not be skimpy but are definitely racy—a dizzying array of matching and contrasting prints and stripes that no real Park Avenue lady could wear to Mass.

So who is the intended customer for Browne’s pricey clothes that are at once surreal and demure? “I don’t start my design process with what I think will sell,” says Browne. “My initial starting point is always with how to create something interesting. My muse is a woman with an independent and individual mindset.” Browne hopes to influence women’s wardrobes one head-to-toe outfit at a time, adding yardage of fabric to their looks and making bizarro-prep mermaid patterns and stiff blazers seem as alluring as short skirts. “The definition of propriety is different for everyone,” he says. Here’s hoping at least a few women are referencing the same dictionary.

Styling Mobolaji Dawodu. Model Briana Fails.

Kempt Woman: Thom Browne’s Debutante Debut