Thom Browne’s Sports Obsession Extends to New FC Barcelona Capsule

There’s been a lot of controversy lately surrounding the FC Barcelona soccer team as it worked feverishly to retain its superstar player Lionel Messi — they were successful, at least for the time being. But if Messi does indeed exit when his contract expires next summer, he’ll be giving up a fashionable wardrobe designed by Thom Browne.

In 2018, the American designer inked a deal to become the official provider of FC Barcelona’s off-field tailored and formal wear uniforms. Now Browne is extending that relationship by creating a commercial collection in partnership with the team.

The special-edition capsule collection between Browne and the FC Barcelona Barca Foundation will launch next week, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the charity, which helps vulnerable children worldwide through sports and the teaching of life skills. The collection includes a wool short suit, button-down cardigan, white oxford shirt, tie, scarf, socks, knit hat and pebble grain folio, all co-branded and emblazoned with the FCB crest.

Browne’s association with the FC Barcelona team is just one of his many sports-related projects. His spring show earlier this month offered up an Olympics-inspired theme: the inaugural 2132 Lunar Games, which he showcased as a film rather than a runway event, using real-life Olympic athletes as models and showing the line in L.A.’s Memorial Coliseum where the 1984 Summer Olympics were held.

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Two years ago during the NBA Playoffs, Browne spearheaded a major fashion moment by creating matching custom-tailored looks for the entire Cleveland Cavaliers team, which then included LeBron James. The designer also created a sports capsule last year for Unknwn, a retail shop in Miami co-owned by the basketball legend and newly crowned NBA champion with the L.A. Lakers. Browne, who swam at Notre Dame and is still a competitive runner, also created a golf capsule for his store in Milan. And just as the pandemic hit in March, he collaborated with Nordstrom on a locker room concept as part of the retailer’s rotating pop-up program.

Here, Browne takes time to discuss designing during a pandemic, his love of sports and what’s next for his brand, which has grown to a reported $200 million in annual sales.

WWD: You went out to L.A. for your show at the beginning of the month. Where are you now?

Thom Browne: We’re here in New York — I’m at my office. We’ve been back for [awhile now.] There’s a point with design where you actually have to be in person. Virtual and digital designing isn’t always that easy.

WWD: Did you fly to Los Angeles for the show and how did that go?

T.B.: It was touch and go in regards to getting out to California and getting back and having to quarantine, but California seemed to open up. The collection, the story, it just fit into the whole narrative of being able to use the L.A. Coliseum. It was so nice for all of us to get out to L.A. and do it. Everyone, for the last eight or nine months, however long it’s been, talks about what they can’t do and it was so nice to talk about what we could do. The collection was hopeful, us being able to shoot it was very hopeful and optimistic, and just moving forward and doing it in a way that was appropriate for the time. It was the most responsible way of doing the shoot, and doing it at the level that we did was so much fun for us. It was a replacement for being able to show the collection in person in a totally different way and medium, but I feel like people got a very similar experience.

A look from the Thom Browne spring 2021 show. Courtesy of Thom Browne

WWD: Did you learn anything from this experience? Is it going to impact what you do in the future?

T.B.: I feel like every collection is a small story that I somewhat direct and we produce every season for both men and women. Other than “The Septemberists” [a film produced for the spring 2007 men’s collection], it was a nice way of almost bringing me back to the world of shooting video and film, and looking forward, it’s something I think I will consider.

WWD: Do you know yet how you’re going to handle January/February?

T.B.: I don’t know for sure, but the experience of shooting a film for this collection felt really good and I think people saw the collection in as close a way as they could, not seeing it in person. So we’ll play it by ear, but the next collection is being designed and developed as if we were to show it in person. With the way the world is, we don’t know for sure, but I want to make sure it’s again being done responsibly and at the same level as the film.

WWD: The show/film was another sports reference. Sports are very important to you. Is it because you’re an athlete, because you admire athletes? Why?

T.B.: It’s all of that. I’ve always been inspired by athletes at that level. It’s one of the reasons that the project with FC Barcelona was interesting, seeing as they’re at the height of world-class level. Same thing with LeBron and doing projects with him. And someday hopefully Serena [Williams], if that was to ever happen. That’s a dream. But that level of rigor and drive and being able to be at that level [is so impressive]. You’re an athlete, I’m an athlete, but at such a different level. We do know how much we put into it even at the level we are, so to be at that world-class level is something that’s inspiring and also, I wanted to be inspiring to everyone because it is something to look to for inspiration.

WWD: LeBron and his L.A. Lakers won another NBA championship the other night. Were you watching?

T.B.: I was watching and I think he’s one of those generational icons that we will see documentaries on in the future, just like the amazing one on Michael Jordan. He’s this generation’s Michael Jordan, I think he’s…LeBron.

WWD: What sports are you watching now that most of them are kinda, sort of, back?

T.B.: The French Open, I just watched the finals, and Notre Dame just played [football] this past weekend. It is amazing to see that the schools are back and that sports are back. We’re in such a unique moment when baseball is in the playoffs, basketball just finished, hockey, too. This has never happened before, ever. It’s a sports watchers’ dream.

WWD: Tell me the origin of this new capsule you’re doing with FC Barcelona.

T.B.: The relationship with FC Barcelona has been about two years now and it’s a strong relationship. The one thing that has been important to me was making sure that we did something that made a difference outside of just Thom Browne and FC Barcelona. They have an amazing foundation and for us it was important to be able to contribute in some way. And the best way — and the most authentic way — for us to entertain contributing was to create this collection that [showed] the relationship between Thom Browne and FC Barcelona and all the proceeds go to the foundation.

The FC Barcelona capsule will launch on Oct. 21. 

WWD: In the past, did you just dress the team or did you create a commercial collection available to the public as well?

T.B.: It was really just dressing them. For me, working with the team was similar to how I approach most of the relationships I have, like with LeBron for the Cavaliers. It was really making sure that the young kids who look up to all of these players see them as one strong unit that they represent as a team. They are of course superstars individually, but the power they represent in that gray suit, going to that game, makes the team unit so strong and so powerfully inspiring to young kids. When they arrive to games all dressed individually, I think it sends a message that they’re individuals and that’s a message that is not as strong as when they’re in that cohesive uniform.

WWD: Will the capsule collection be primarily tailored clothing?

T.B.: The important thing with me is that true collaborations only work when you see both sides. And for me, I approached it from a tailoring point of view because that’s what I want everyone to think of when they think of Thom Browne. But I made sure they saw tailoring in a way that pays homage to FC Barcelona. So that was using their crest and their colors and also playing with the whole football theme of the collection.

The collection offers a mix of tailored and sportswear pieces. 

WWD: When does it launch and will it be available in the States as well as in Europe?

T.B.: The message goes out [today] and the collection then launches on the 21st. It’s available worldwide — in select stores in Asia, Europe and the U.S. — and on Thombrowne.com and Farfetch.com.

WWD: Do you see yourself doing more of these limited-edition capsules with FC Barcelona or anybody else in the future?

T.B.: I will do them when they feel authentic and there’s a real purpose.

WWD: Tailored is a real hallmark of your brand and all we hear about is how everyone has gotten used to wearing sweatpants at home during the pandemic that they’re not going to go back to wearing suits. Is this going to change anything in your design aesthetic going forward?

T.B.: I have always stayed true to collections being based on tailoring, so I will never go along with whatever the trend is. I have a collection that is very complete. It’s always based on tailoring but of course I have sportswear within the collection. There’s a lot of everything.

WWD: Right before the pandemic, you teamed up with Nordstrom on a Thom Browne locker room pop-up at the New York men’s store. It was more casual than we’re used to seeing, but also had some tailored elements.

T.B.: I’ve never liked to separate tailoring from sportswear and sportswear from tailoring. I think they both work really well together and the most important thing is that there’s quality in both. I reference sports all the time and that’s why I feel my tailoring is just as much sportswear as it is tailoring.

WWD: Let’s switch gears and talk about politics for a moment. You designed a scarf for the Joe Biden campaign. Was that fun and are you going to do anything else as the campaign goes into its final weeks?

T.B.: Well, I’m going to vote. That was a nice project to do in support of the Biden campaign and working with Anna [Wintour] in support of that initiative. I think the most important thing is just to stay informed with what’s going on and for all of us to just vote.

WWD: Turning to business. Reports indicate the brand has sales of around $200 million now and you’re holding up pretty well despite the pandemic. True?

T.B.: The business is holding up really, really well. We figured out early on in March how to get through this time. Staying true to what people come to me for has been the reason business has stayed as strong as it has over the last couple of months.

WWD: Is the plan to continue to add to your store fleet?

T.B.: By the end of next year, we’ll add 10 flagships to bring the total to 45. There are currently 66 total flagships, stores and shop-in-shops and by the end of next year, there will be 78.

WWD: Are you still moving ahead with the women’s store in London?

T.B.: Yes. That’s opening in the next couple of months. It’s just being built out right now. I would love to be over there for the opening because it’s going to be an important store — it’s going to be one of the few single-sex stores. We’ll be opening one in Korea and another in Milan in the next couple of months as well. Every store is important to me because it’s the one environment where I get to fully curate and show people exactly what I want them to see. It’s going to be true to the design of what most people see in my stores.

WWD: Where do you see growth coming for the brand in the future?

T.B.: I feel there is still so much to do for both my women’s and men’s collection. In a way, I feel like I am just at the beginning of something so much bigger. And we all feel this, but the most important thing for this to happen is to challenge myself to be even more creative and to tell more stories and to make people think and to make beautiful things that make people talk.

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