Thom Browne is the designer name on everyone’s lips after Michelle Obama wore a custom-made, navy checked coat and dress to her husband’s Inauguration on Monday. Obama has a well-documented history of promoting American designers, and this is not the first time that she has worn Browne; however, this particularly high-profile exposure has thrust him into the national spotlight.
The forty-something designer hails from Allentown, Penn. and surprisingly, has no formal design training. Browne graduated from the University of Notre Dame with an economics degree and tried his hand at acting in L.A. before discovering his love for fashion. In 1997 he started out as a salesman in Giorgio Armani’s New York City showroom, and then went on to work in creative development for Club Monaco for several years before starting his eponymous label in 2003.
Browne’s sharp, tailored menswear aesthetic was crafted as an intentional counterpoint to the increasing prevalence of the business casual look. His sleek suits propelled a return to a more formal look for men, albeit with a modern twist—one of the designer’s signatures is the exposed ankle. He launched a women’s line in 2011, and in addition to his own line, also designs for Brooks Brothers and Moncler. In 2012 he won the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award for Fashion Design and attended a July celebration for the honor, hosted by Michelle Obama, at the White House.
Despite his precise design ethos, Browne often embraces the drama of fashion. He is known to stage very theatrical runway shows; his September 2012 outing featured ballerinas and funhouse mirrors. And following his latest high-profile client, we can expect for him to amp up the volume even more during New York Fashion Week next month.