Thom Browne uses his phone like most of us: a lot. He uses it to check emails when he wakes up, and then volleys responses throughout the day. When he’s off the clock he likes to check in with Streeteasy, because even world-famous fashion designers love real estate voyeurism. The one thing Thom Browne absolutely does not use his phone for? Fit pics.
“People actually do that?” he asks, aghast, when I explain to him the practice of taking a picture of your outfit and posting it online. No, Browne tells me, he could get dressed in the dark—no mirror, camera flash, or proof of outfit necessary. That’s evident Tuesday morning when we meet by Zoom. He’s wearing his uniform—a crisp white shirt and a vest in his signature grey, with stripes across the upper right shoulder. We’re talking about his new collaboration with mobile giant Samsung—their third time working together.
Unlike past collaborations with Samsung, the new versions of the designer’s Galaxy Z Fold3 and Z Flip3 don’t come in his signature slate grey. The designer instead decided to embrace a snowy white this time around, while still accenting everything with his recognizable red-blue-and-white stripe. “The past year and a half I’ve been so inspired by sport and the Olympics,” Browne explains of the patriotic color scheme. (He watched most of the Olympics on the BBC while in Europe—the broadcasts, he laments, were slanted towards team Great Britain.) “And that’s the reason why the red, white and blue—and specifically the white—came to be, because it felt so iconically reminiscent of those Olympic years and the Olympic uniforms that I’ve always been inspired by.”
There’s more than just a phone to the new collaboration, as well. In typical Browne fashion, he wants to create a uniform—at least for your cellular device. In addition to the two foldable phones, there are bands for a smart watch, earbuds and their case, charging units, and an “S Pen” stylus all remade in Browne’s vision. Even the phone’s software has Browne’s fingerprints on it. Venetian blinds, like the ones at his stores, rise and fall as the phone is switched on and off, while the keyboard makes wistful typewriter noises. This is just the way his mind works. “As you know, I do collections,” he says matter-of-factly, “so I always think more in total—more in a collection way.” He sees the phone as an entrypoint to his world, unless it’s the finishing touch for preexisting converts.
Uniformity, stately suits, and big-picture thinking are all touchstones of Browne’s design language, an outgrowth of his passion for ultra-precise midcentury everything. In that way, a cell phone can feel like a curious project for Browne. “The most important thing for me is that when I do reference things from the past, I make it relevant for today,” he says. “That’s one of the important reasons why the phone was interesting to me, too. The trick was ”taking such modern technology and making it feel like it was comfortable, because of those references from the past. The most boring thing for me is when people reference the past and you just see the past. It just makes it feel very irrelevant.” The flip phone, then, is really no different than his shrunken suits: an object of the past remade for the present.
And although phones have gotten prettier since the days of Browne’s first flip phone—just look at these pearlescent new models—they haven’t necessarily contributed to universal beautification. Browne has bemoaned the staleness of fashion photography in the past, and it’s certainly not a cause helped by the inordinate amount of burgeoning photographers on Instagram.When I suggest that his dreaded fit pics may be to blame for worsening conditions, Browne solemnly agrees. “Yeah, it sounds like it is. Slippery slope into whatever is going to happen,“ he says. “Too many people think that they are [fashion photographers].”
Browne’s new collaboration with Samsung is available to preorder today, August 11th.