Be forewarned if you ever get an invitation to join Thom Browne for Thanksgiving dinner — there’s a good chance you’re going to get hurt.
That’s because the designer and his family always preface the feast with a game of touch football that they take very seriously. “We’re a competitive Irish Catholic family so someone always got hurt. It was touch football, but ours was violent touching,” he said with a laugh. “But it’s a nice family tradition.”
It’s that family tradition Browne drew from for his latest sports-related project: a football-themed collection for his alma mater, Notre Dame.
Over the summer the university named Browne an artist-in-residence for the 2022-23 academic year in its Institute for Advanced Study. The appointment includes on-campus events focused on his life and work moderated by another Notre Dame alumnus, Michael Hainey, former deputy editor of GQ. The first was held at the end of October and Browne used the visit to hold his annual football game on the South Quad of the campus.
Since 2014 Browne has hosted a pre-Thanksgiving game in Central Park, bringing family, friends, models, actors and photographers together for a lively competition. But this year he returned to South Bend, Indiana, for the first time since graduating in 1988 and brought a group of Notre Dame students together to face off in a live game.
“We didn’t realize how much fun we’d have,” he said. “It got us out of our fashion world for a couple of days. The kids were so charming and refreshing — they’re so smart and serious. We had a really good time.”
He said the students who participated in the game included some varsity swimmers, but no one from the football team. They also wore the collection of clothes that Browne described as a “hybrid of rugby and American football.” That includes classic varsity pieces such as rugby polos, long johns and sweaters with the brand’s four-bar stripe, in gray or navy and white. The capsule also features some of the brand’s signature items such as the bal collar coat, sack jacket and high-top canvas sneakers.
The collection, which includes pieces for children and dogs and some spectator-wear such as skirts, down-filled parkas and a muff, will be sold at the Thom Browne stores beginning Thursday.
“The gray team was supposed to win, but navy won,” Browne said.
The designer, who swam on the Notre Dame team during his college years, said he just watched from the sidelines instead of participating. Maybe he was just trying to avoid getting injured.
The football collection is the latest sports-related project for the designer. He famously dressed LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers for the NBA Playoffs in 2018, has created golf capsules, is the official off-field outfitter of the FC Barcelona soccer team, and held one of his recent fashion shows in Los Angeles’ Memorial Coliseum, the site of the 1984 Summer Olympics.
Browne, who graduated with an accounting and economics degree from the university, said he got a call from Meghan Sullivan, Notre Dame’s associate dean for the arts, a few months ago to see if he’d consider taking on the artist-in-residence position. He jumped at the opportunity because of his respect for the university and the education he received there. “I get a lot of calls like that, but I did it because it was Notre Dame and I wanted to go back,” he said.
“My years at Notre Dame were formative to me, developing my sense of self and my motivation to succeed,” he said at the time of the appointment in late August. “Athletics have always been important to me, an important part of my life. My time swimming at Notre Dame stays with me until today. The rigor and discipline keeps me striving for more each day, never compromising. My Notre Dame experience continues to inform my daily approach to life, to design and for success.”
During his spring visit in April, Browne will be a guest speaker at the one-credit course: “Strong Suits: The Art, Philosophy and Business of Thom Browne,” co-taught by Sullivan and Michael Schreffler, associate professor in the department of art, art history and design. Browne said during his time on campus, he’ll also speak to the MBA students.
The Notre Dame project is just one of many for the multitasking designer, who is set to take over as the chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America on Jan. 1. His brand, which had sales of 185.8 million euros in the first half of this year, operates some 96 stores around the world and is in the throes of a retail rollout that will find that number increasing to 150 within the next four to five years. The company is majority owned by the Ermenegildo Zegna Group.
Browne credited his team with helping him juggle all of his projects. “I have so many good people around me,” he said. And although he’s keeping his plans for the CFDA under wraps for now, he’s confident that he can make a mark with the organization. “I wouldn’t take it on if I didn’t think I could handle it,” he said.