What to Know About Designer Thom Browne, the CFDA’s New Chairman

He went from making his own suits to dressing the First Lady and ruling the red carpet.

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Suiting has been around for centuries, but every few decades, a designer changes the game. In the 2000s, that was Thom Browne. The young Pennsylvania-born designer made his way up the fashion industry ranks throughout the last two decades, becoming known for his expert tailoring and craftsmanship.

Now, he's been recognized for his contributions and was named as the chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA). Before he takes over the role in January 2023, here's what you need to know about him.

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How did the Thom Browne brand begin?

Thom Browne is an American fashion designer born in Allentown, Pennsylvania. After high school in 1988, Browne went to Notre Dame and was on the swim team. Soon after, he moved to Los Angeles to try acting before ultimately moving to New York City to pursue a career in fashion — like many a fashion person before him and since. His is a true story of working your way up the ranks. He wasn't formally trained as a designer but started as a tailor, then a salesperson for Giorgio Armani until he eventually became a designer for Club Monaco, during that brand's cool-kid peak.

As GQ reports, Browne started his eponymous line in 2001 with seed money he borrowed from his siblings. He made five tailored suits that he wore around N.Y.C. as advertising. Browne opened up his shop downtown making custom suiting that was in contrast to the boxy silhouettes that predated him. In 2004, he caught the fashion world's attention when he launched a line of ready-to-wear that earned him a CFDA nomination.

Tommy Fazio, men's fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman, told New York Magazine in 2006, "He's really influencing everyone. I see his shape echoed throughout the market. But no one does it like Thom. And in the store, it's gotten to the point where guys just come in and say, 'Where's the Thom Browne?' You hear it as much as 'Where's the ladies' room?' these days."

The Harry Winston Collection

In 2009, Thom Browne became the first designer to create a line of men's jewelry for Harry Winston. The collection included cuff links, tie bars, and class rings. Then-CEO Thomas O'Neil said his tailoring drew him to Browne's design aesthetic. "Thom Browne has a uniquely American sensibility. His meticulous design aesthetic will be applied to luxurious pieces reflecting Winston's heritage and craftsmanship," he said in a press release. "We look forward to this collaboration and believe it will be a great addition to our company's collections."

Dressing Michelle Obama

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For President Barack Obama's 2013 Inauguration, First Lady Michelle Obama tapped Thom Browne to dress her. The look was an expertly tailored pleated coat that was accented with a J.Crew belt around her waist. Browne expressed his feeling about the moment to the New York Times, saying, "It's overwhelming … It is one of those rare moments in someone's career that you will always remember," he said. "There's not a word that can really describe it. It's just amazing."

The brand sells to Ermenegildo Zegna.

Throughout the 2010s, the brand had several successful collections, building on Browne's reputation of expert tailoring. In 2018, BoF reported that Ermenegildo Zegna, founder of Italian luxury menswear house Zegna, took an 85% stake in the company, which was valued at $500 million.

Viral Red Carpet Moments and the CFDA Leadership Role

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In March 2022, Thom Browne had a viral red carpet moment when Oscar Isaac wore a blazer and skirt by the brand to the Moon Knight premiere. This was the beginning of several viral moments, including one with Lizzo at the Met Gala.

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In October, it was announced that Browne would succeed Tom Ford as chairman of the CFDA.

"Thom understands the steps that are required to build an American fashion business that's both successful and highly respected by the global fashion community," CFDA Chief Executive Officer Steven Kolb said in a statement. "He started as an independent menswear collection in New York, and developed his brand into a fast-growing, profitable business with a strong global presence."

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