You wouldn’t expect Browne, who for nearly two decades has been known for his eponymous line of clipped suiting and elaborate runway shows, to have the free time to moonlight, but that’s exactly what he’s been doing for the last seven or so years, painting in his office and stacking finished works unceremoniously against the walls, unbeknownst to his peers and mostly everyone else (Ermenegildo Zegna’s purchase last year of 85 per cent of Thom Browne the company, based on a valuation of $500 million, no doubt opened up some studio time).
Fashion and art have long been familiar bedfellows, and Browne certainly isn’t the first established fashion designer to dabble in visual art—Helmut Lang and Kenzo Takada shifted to sculpture and painting, respectively, after leaving their namesake companies, and Hedi Slimane and Karl Lagerfeld made evocative environmental and portrait photography. (Sterling Ruby is the inverse of this transference, a visual artist who has waded into fashion).
That inheritance is not exactly immediate, given their spareness, but Browne is a studious apprentice, so much so that he had his canvases measured to Sargent’s preferred size. “I thought of doing a series that was based on the scale of his portraits,” he said earlier this month in his office, joined by his wire-haired dachshund Hector, who was happily whipping himself into circles. “How I approach both art and fashion has a lot to do with proportion, so I thought it was interesting to play with that in this world.
His dance card is about to fill up this December, when Browne makes his Art Basel Miami Beach debut with Palm Tree I, his first public art work, an imposing 21-foot-tall sculpture, which ascends up through the four-story atrium of the Moore Building in the city’s design district.
The palm tree is something of a Proustian madeleine for Browne, who was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania but lived in Miami for a year in the early 70s when he was very young, before the city’s regeneration into a Deco playground for the wealthy. “My mother used to take us down to the beach for lunch,” he said. “I never even realized it until I saw photographs.
Browne insists his sculpture isn’t a commentary on the art fair ecosystem per se, or how feelings around them have soured in recent years, but it’s also not not about that. “I don't know much about art fairs, but I have to say the world in all aspects of how we live has become very commercialized,” he said. “This for me is a pure exercise.
Thom Browne is taking on the art world. https://t.co/pPfjgPXDt0— W Magazine (@wmag) December 4, 2019