Thom Browne tells young designers that creativity is their greatest asset

woman in white dress sketch

Peter Arnold, Executive Director at Fashion Scholarship Fund, shared his advice to fashion’s next generation. Mentors are an invaluable resource, as Browne’s former boss Ralph Lauren is one. However, it can be easy to look at the history of successful careers and see how others have done it. He says, “I wanted it to be my way.” “You must figure out how you want to do things.”

He did, and that is something no one can deny. Browne is a role model for creativity in the US fashion industry because of his clarity of vision, out-of-the box thinking, and his must-see runway spectacles. He didn’t go to school for fashion. Instead, he was a competitive swimmer at school. After that, he studied Economics and Japanese. He eventually became a struggling artist in Los Angeles. He was looking for a job when he heard about a Giorgio Armani job opening. The rest is fashion history. He applied. However, his naivety was a benefit: “My entry into fashion was sometimes simpler because I didn’t know what I was getting into.”

woman in white dress sketch

The challenges that came with all these years of creating tailored suits, playing with proportions, and incorporating vintage inspiration to appeal to a younger audience have been endless. His business has been financially strengthened by rewarding collaborations with brands such as Moncler or Brooks Bros, but retail’s ups as well as downs have not stopped him. He recalls his career-defining moments, including his first collection being purchased by Parisian boutique Colette. Browne is not bound to Ermenegildo Zegna Group but feels free and in control of his company. These are all part of the journey. He says, “I couldn’t do this again.”

Browne doesn’t follow the trends, chase the zeitgeist or pay too much attention the market. He says that knowing as much about the outside world as possible will help you to be more free. This message seems to contradict the fundamental fashion school teachings. “You are crippled by brilliant ideas that have already occurred.” He doesn’t use mood boards and doesn’t require sketches for his initial creative brainstorming. His talented team of patternmakers and designers helps him to discuss his ideas. He says, “Then I let it happen.”

Thom Brown’s creative team building process

Browne says, “Very rarely do i hire someone with too many experience.” Browne says, “I have many people who started their careers here.” However, he insists that candidates need to understand his approach and his brand. He says, “If you don’t like a gray suit, I don’t know why [you would] come to me.”

He believes that all graduates should first work for a brand to learn the value of hardwork and to see the business’s ramifications before considering launching their own company. The higher-ups don’t often think of young designers as a way to advocate for them. These matters are not his concern.

Browne enjoys seeing portfolios that include interests other than fashion and evidence of skills like patternmaking or sewing. He laments the fact that it’s not more disappointing to have a provocative idea turn out to be just a taped together. However, he has these words of wisdom for young creatives: “Never lose your pure creativity.” This is what I find most valuable when I look at people.

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