That public skepticism now seems long ago. Over the years, the Browne collections grew: Womenswear launched in 2011 (within two years, Browne had dressed Michelle Obama for her second inauguration), and menswear expanded far beyond the suit. Today there are sporty cardigans and polo shirts with the signature quadruple stripe on the left sleeve. There’s knitwear, swimwear, athleticwear, loungewear, and—for want of a more precise term—wry preppy wear. (A recent collection featured a lobster print on various styles of cotton and wool.) There’s a natty, much-coveted childrenswear collection, for the rising generation of Browneans. Along the way, the allegiance of Browne’s customers has assumed a cultlike quality, the cultishness not minimized by the uniformity of what they wear.
Browne describes himself as ambivalent about dressing celebrities—“It depends on who it is”—but does it often, across an electric range of personalities and styles: His posse at last year’s Met Gala alone included Fallon, Erykah Badu, Pete Davidson, Lee Pace, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, Amandla Stenberg, and Lil Uzi Vert; this year’s roster included Lakers star Russell Westbrook, who wore a top hat, a gold chain, black-and-white-striped socks, and white-tie kit with a long black pleated skirt. “The skirt is unique in that a lot of people don’t like to wear it,” says Westbrook, who has taken to wearing Browne skirts off the court. “And for me, because of my length and my height, it just works well.” The top hat and the chain, he says, were additions of his own. (And while Westbrook has become one of Browne’s most consistent champions in the NBA, he is not the only one—in 2018, LeBron James led the entire Cleveland Cavaliers team during the NBA playoffs in coordinated gray Thom Browne suits.)
Badu understands Browne’s attention to uniformity and consistency as being ironic and thus liberating: By calling out the constraints, she thinks, his work invites the imagination to break free. “When everything is going too smoothly, you want to deviate from that—to me, that is his whole aesthetic.” It was Browne who designed Badu’s divine all-white look for the Soul Train Awards in 2017—a long white suit-dress trimmed with great clouds of frayed fabric, white boots, and big white stovepipe hat topped with a brass-colored metallic sculpture of her own. For the 2021 Met Gala, he put her in black: a down stole, a twill jacket and suspender skirt, and lace-up patent-leather boots. A black hat, a Browne-tricolor headband, and a sausage-like leather bag in the form of Browne’s pet dachshund, Hector, finished the outfit. The look was both elegant and ominous, gloriously and unsettlingly exaggerated, as in a dream.
Thom Browne is standing in his new house, admiring the fruits of a lengthy renovation. “I’ve known about this house ever since I’ve lived in New York,” he says, gazing at the beautiful black-and-white-checkered marble floor of the atrium, on which sits, atop a pedestal table, a statue of Diana drawing back her bow which mirrors one that used to sit over Madison Square Garden. The house was designed by Mott Schmidt and built for the heiress Anne Vanderbilt, in 1920. Browne and Bolton bought it three years ago, then spent two years renovating it under the guidance of their friend the interior designer David Kleinberg—a pandemic project that Browne, unusually for people undertaking renovations, says he enormously enjoyed. I ask what was redone. “Everything,” he says. Behind him, Hector is running in tight circles, chasing his tail.
The Sutton Place house has dark brown herringbone floors, tall windows (with venetian blinds, of course), and a selection of furniture reaching back to the 18th century. To one side of the entry hall is a sitting room; to the other is a dining room fitted with gilded mirrors, which extends to a patio and then the garden. Browne opens the door, and Hector runs out merrily, then pauses in apparent self-restraint: Dogs are not allowed to tread the pristinely mowed, bright green lawn, so he satisfies himself with the paved edge. Inside, some antique silver (a gift from Bolton) is set on an antique inlaid side table. An elegant hearth (Bolton and Brown imported fireplaces from England) is topped by an ornate mirror. Opposite the entryway, a vast and glorious spiral staircase ascends, covered by a stripe of black carpet up the middle.
Upstairs, Browne—an architecture nut with a particular taste for midcentury and Georgian design—wanders through the main sitting room and a study in a masculine style (black marble hearth, black carpet, midcentury black leather chairs), all of it perfectly and pristinely arranged. Hector has discreetly gone to a corner to chase his tail once more.
Browne and Bolton describe themselves as having a domestic life that is both simple and preternaturally placid. “Thom is the calmest person I’ve ever come across,” Bolton says, “and there’s a specific, soft cadence to our lives.” They rise early to exercise. (Browne runs; Bolton cycles.) Browne breakfasts at Sant Ambroeus, an upscale café chain, and then heads to his offices in a nondescript building on a loud, crowded block of West 35th Street, beside a lunch buffet and opposite a fabric store. At the end of the day they converge at home, have a drink, and try to relax. “We live a very boring life,” Browne says. According to Bolton, Browne’s two great nonathletic hobbies are scrolling through StreetEasy, the real estate listing website, and being a “CNN addict.” When they’re out, they sometimes go to shows on Broadway. (“Funny Girl is great,” Browne says. He also liked The Lion King: “The entrance? Is amazing.”) More often, though, they’re in, and dining together; neither of them cooks much. “We have mastered caviar delivery,” Browne says. “The pandemic taught us how.”