The CFDA has gone for another Thom.
Thom Browne has been named the next chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, effective Jan. 1 and will be charged with steering the organization amid a rapidly changing landscape.
The CFDA board unanimously elected Browne to the role for a two-year term. The 57-year-old designer succeeds Tom Ford, who completed a three-year term at the end of May. Since that time Steven Kolb, chief executive officer of the CFDA, has served as interim chair and will continue to do so through Dec. 31.
During his term Ford diversified the board; initiated new programs to help bring much-needed diversity, equity and inclusion to the fashion industry; partnered with brands to help provide access to hundreds of jobs, opportunities and mentorships, and started A Common Thread with Vogue, which distributed more than $5 million in relief aid to fashion businesses during the first two years of the pandemic.
“I am very excited about taking the chairmanship of the CFDA,” said Browne. “I feel a huge responsibility in working with Steven and the CFDA team to carry on the positive and important work of Tom, Diane [von Furstenberg] and Stan [Herman]. I also feel that it is important to give back to an industry that supported me so well over the last 20 years. I am so proud to be an American designer…there is so much happening in American design today that the world needs to really see and recognize and truly appreciate.”
Browne launched his business in 2003 with five gray suits in a made-to-measure shop in the West Village in New York, creating a sharply tailored uniform comprising a jacket and trouser paired with a gray cardigan, a white Oxford shirt, a gray tie and silver tie bar, and classic black brogues. Known for his shrunken tailoring, he has since expanded to include complete ready-to-wear and accessories collections for men and women, with the latter being introduced in 2011. The designer has also become well-known for his highly conceptual runway presentations. His company has since 2018 been owned by the Zegna Group, which went public on the New York Stock Exchange late last year. Browne posted sales of 264 million euros last year, an increase of 47 percent, as reported.
In 2005 Browne became a member of the CFDA. He has been a recipient of CFDA’s Menswear Designer of the Year award three times: in 2006, 2013 and 2016.
This year Browne has again been nominated for the CFDA’s Menswear Designer of the Year, competing against Emily Bode Aujla for Bode (the 2021 winner), Jerry Lorenzo for Fear of God, Mike Amiri for Amiri and Willy Chavarria. The CFDA Awards will take place Nov. 7 at Cipriani South Street at Casa Cipriani in Manhattan.
Browne has also been a runner-up of the 2005 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. In addition to serving on the CFDA board, Browne is a past member of the organization’s admissions committee and serves on the selection committee for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. Browne has been honored with the GQ Designer of the Year, the FIT Couture Council Award, as well as the Cooper Hewitt National Design Award.
His designs have been shown in museums around the world including the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Costume Museum at Bath and the Mode Museum Antwerp. His brand is carried in more than 300 department stores and specialty boutique doors across 40 countries and through 96 retail stores, flagships and shops-in-shop in key cities such as New York, London, Milan, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and Seoul. He has shown his collections in New York and Paris.
Earlier this month Browne showed his women’s spring collection in the foyer of the Opéra Garnier, and staged an Americana-inflected retelling of Cinderella, complete with a giant shoe and actresses Gwendoline Christie and Golden Globe-winning “Pose” star MJ Rodriguez as lead characters . It was “an Americana prom mixed with Cinderella, mixed with the Paris Opera,” Browne said at the time.
Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Browne didn’t set out to become a fashion designer, graduating from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in economics. Following an acting career in Los Angeles, Browne moved to New York in 1997 and began working as a salesman at Giorgio Armani. Club Monaco, then owned by Polo Ralph Lauren, later chose him to lead its creative development team, which he did for several years before launching his own label.
During his career Browne has partnered with Brooks Brothers as a guest designer, creating and distributing Black Fleece by Brooks Brothers, a partnership that lasted eight years, and he has also collaborated with Moncler to design its men’s top line, Moncler Gamme Bleu, launched in 2009 and lasting eight years. Browne has also done a collaboration deal with Supreme.
“My most important message is that everyone should have all the opportunities to thrive as designers, but the core of this success has to start from pure creativity. It is our responsibility as designers to keep the story being told in an uncompromisingly creative way that reaches all in the most positive way,” said Browne.
“It is the mission of the CFDA to support and encourage new voices and new designers to parlay their creativity into a unique and singular level of success. As designers, it is our responsibility to provoke, to educate, to entertain, to make laugh and to make cry, and most importantly, to make beautiful clothes and to succeed in nurturing the next generation of American design,” he said.
In announcing Browne’s appointment, Kolb said: “Thom understands the steps that are required to build an American fashion business that is both successful and highly respected by the global fashion community. 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. Thom firmly believes the craft of fashion is the foundation of success, and his commitment to creativity runs through everything that he touches. Thom’s significant contribution to design innovation has been recognized by museums around the world. Our members, at every level of the CFDA, and the organization as a whole will benefit immensely from his thoughts, ideas and experience, and I’m looking forward to our work together.”
Past CFDA chairs are Ford, Diane von Furstenberg, Stan Herman, Carolyne Roehm, Perry Ellis, Mary McFadden, Bill Glass, Herbert Kasper, Oscar de la Renta, Norman Norell and Sydney Wragge. Today, the CFDA has a membership of 456 of America’s womenswear, menswear, jewelry, and accessory designers.
The CFDA is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year and has been pushing the social impact agenda.
Among the issues it tackles are diversity, equity and inclusion through the Impact initiative, as well as sustainability in fashion. Emerging designers and students are supported through professional development programming and numerous grant and scholarship opportunities. In addition to hosting the annual CFDA Fashion Awards, the CFDA is the organizer of the Official New York Fashion Week Schedule as part of the American Collections Calendar, as well as Runway360, the digital destination for collection releases year-round. The CFDA Foundation Inc. is a separate, not-for-profit organized to mobilize the membership to raise funds for charitable causes and engagement in civic initiatives.
Browne was not available at this time to discuss his specific plans for the organization.
In a WWD story for the CFDA’s 60th anniversary last month, designers offered up several pieces of advice for the incoming chairperson. They said they hoped the person would shine a spotlight on the talents of its members, particularly the next generation of American designers. They would like to see the chairperson provide global exposure through collaborations with international retailers, focus attention and resources on emerging designers, the Web3.0, and the metaverse, and start a dialogue between members with formal mentoring, sharing best practices within the industry, as far as supply chain, warehouse management, digital marketing, sustainability and access to capital. Designers said they also hoped the chairperson would create a strong and cohesive community with emerging and established American brands.