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Who is the Thom Browne Man?

Who is the Thom Browne Man? photo

Tom Vs. Thom

One sells masculinity. One sells boyhood.

The New York Times took a minute to dissect the Thom Browne shopper, the nonexistant boy/man who struts around in undersized clothes fit for a ten year old.  The article compares Thom to Tom (Ford), a designer known for portraying men as the sexually charged deviants they truly are.  One wants boys, one wants men.

In the balance the future of menswear?

We have the full article below, but the real question we must ask is whether or not this is the right perception of mens fashion? Thom’s idea was to revitalize menswear and rethink what’s the norm. Personally the look of Thom’s collection is unappealing and as of yet, I have not seen a single gentleman comfortable enough to walk down the street in something as silly looking as a Browne suit, but maybe we’re just at the heralding of a new generation of men.  We’ve seen the men in fashion spreads get younger as the new manhood deevolves into boyness. While the “metro” man seems to disappear, in his place is a younger, prepubescent image fit for a pedophile.  Are boys the new men?

Weigh in indies. Is Thom Browne bankable for the mainstream or is his collection just not wearable enough and has mens fashion finally caught up to womens fashion, promoting a younger image of a man that is down right childish?

Sizing Up the Cut of a Man


EVEN if you spend a lot of time around fashion and the endearing nut jobs who create it, this question comes up every so often: Who is that person?

By that person, one is referring to an imaginary consumer, a man who designers have decided should wear skintight flood pants and a Pee-wee Herman jacket barely grazing his behind.

Who exactly is the boy/man fashion is crazy about lately, the guy wearing tennis shorts or onesies or the sort of jacket an Etonian whom I know claims was called a bum-freezer when he was at school?

Who, in other words, is the Thom Browne man?

For the benefit of those who have just awakened from a lengthy disco nap, Thom Browne is a onetime actor, a former design director for Club Monaco and an award-winning designer who — distressed by the disheveled mess that was men’s wear in the aftermath of business casual — took a pronounced taste for a geek version of the 1960s “Mad Men” style, and also a pair of scissors, to the traditional suit.

Having decided that the American male uniform of jeans and a T-shirt had lapsed into a form of dreary establishment dressing, Mr. Browne set about reviving the suit, a costume that once defined the establishment.

Slashing away with abandon, he arrived at a silhouette that was lean and shrunken, with trousers lopped off well north of the ankle, jacket skirts like peplums and sleeves snug enough to cut off the flow of blood.

In Thom Browne’s universe, trousers and suit coats and lapels and ties, and even tie clips, are skinny. In Thom Browne’s world, one can actually wear a tie clip without appearing to idolize Don Knotts. Thom Browne thinks that tie clips are cool, and so apparently did the jury of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, which two years ago named him men’s wear designer of the year.

It is not just the council folks who signed on to the Thom Browne cult, however. He tends to inspire excitement among department store buyers and editors, particularly Anna Wintour, who is credited with having brokered a job for Mr. Browne at Brooks Brothers when the venerable clothier went looking for someone to infuse its dowdy image with verve.

“What Thom Browne has done is make our eye adjust to a shorter, smaller silhouette,” said Tommy Fazio, the men’s fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman, where members of the Thom Browne sect go for their seasonal hit, at least those unafraid to pay $4,000 for a suit. “Other designers followed,” Mr. Fazio said, an observation correct as far as it goes. (Viktor & Rolf; Christopher Bailey; Ennio Capasa at Costume National; and Miuccia Prada leap to mind as designers who have showed kiddie-size men’s clothes for years.)

It is certainly true that many American designers fell under the influence of Mr. Browne and his singular ideas about masculine presentation. Or most of them did, anyway. The signal exception is another talented Tom named Ford.

If Thom Browne has come to represent sartorial arrested development, the proponent of a kind of masculinity that suggests one is never sexier than when being carded, Tom Ford is a throwback to a different manliness. In one of those funny confluences that retailers like Bergdorf Goodman are seemingly built to showcase, the two designers and their variant ideas of how men should dress now find themselves cheek by jowl.

There, on the second and third floors of the Bergdorf men’s branch on Fifth Avenue, stand racks of Mr. Browne’s suits, all chalk stripes, peg legs and taut armholes. And there, as of May 29, in an adjacent second-floor boutique, is a new Tom Ford department, infused with the designer’s trademark form of wood-paneled testosterone swank.

One could think of the pairing as a stare-down between Tom and Thom, or an attempt to capture in clothes the essence of American manhood. Or just think of it as an accident of real estate. In any case, the pairing offers a chance to see how masculinity looks from the very different vantage points of two of the more talented designers at work.

Mr. Browne, the man Brooks Brothers hired to develop a “style for a new generation,” offers clothes that look a lot like those worn by my father four decades ago, when men aimed to look 50 at 20, rather than 20 going on 15. Mr. Ford, who in his Gucci heyday got more mileage out of crotch-hugging trousers and male décolletage than anyone since Tom Jones, offers his Anglicized gloss on Hollywood style.

Unlike more workaday designers, both men seem to start from the hoary but still sound premise, so beloved of the folks in theory-land, that masculinity is a pose, a form of drag. That their clothes in some ways reflect an adolescent’s idea of what it means to look grown up also makes sense. It is probably no accident that as technology makes age seem more mutable, people have happily lapsed into a kind of prolonged adolescence. Biologists terms this Peter Pan state neoteny. Fashion calls it the new look for fall. And why not? With scientists conspiring to make it seem as if growing up and old is anything but inevitable, it makes sense that designers would take up the challenge to cloak our cultural fantasies in new ways.

Once upon a time, people were encouraged to dress in a manner that was age-appropriate. That notion now seems incredibly quaint. How can you dress appropriately for your age when it’s difficult to recall what it is anymore? And why confine your wardrobe to one stage of manhood when it’s equally cool and plausible to dress as though Cary Grant was your grandpa or Pee-wee Herman your dad?

“I’m taking a more youthful kind of sensibility and stretching it to a not-so-youthful sensibility,” Mr. Browne said the other day. “I wanted to take the traditional suit and give it to men in a new way, so that they weren’t wearing their father’ suits, and hopefully making that cool for them.”

For his part, Mr. Ford, whose ready-made suits start at $2,900, said in an interview last week at his Madison Avenue flagship that a person “can push to create newness and move a boundary and yet end up forgetting that people want something to wear.”

Back in the ’80s, when the undervalued genius Paul Reubens began mining cultural anxiety about manhood, he played it mostly for laughs. But there was undoubtedly something prophetic about the adenoidal boy/man Pee-wee Herman as he giggled his way toward a future in which generational distinctions grow fuzzy and we find ourselves parading giddily toward the playhouse dressed up as our child selves in bow ties and knee socks, or else as our fathers doing impersonations of themselves.

“I don’t get hung up by the idea of masculinity,” Mr. Browne said. “An idea that is confident always looks masculine.”

To be masculine, according to Mr. Ford’s design vision, is to fuse the debonair cut of a Savile Row suit with the swagger of a star from 1970s pornography. “I’m gay, I’m masculine and I’m not at all ashamed or embarrassed at this point to say I feel confident in traditional masculine clothes,” he said. By the time a man has reached his 40s, as Mr. Ford and Mr. Browne both have, it is probably useful to accept that one is less close to the playhouse than to the grave. “You grow up,” Mr. Ford said. Or else you do not.