Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Fashion Designer Thom Browne

I’ve always written off openly gay men’s fashion designer Thom Browne as a joke. Who would wear pants cuffed so short that several inches of naked ankle is revealed? Who would buy a shirt with sleeves a foot too long with the cuffs tied behind one’s back? His designs were pure shock-value, headline-screaming nonsense. His jackets were cut so close and short that the models looked for all the world like an expensively dressed Pee-wee Herman. I figured this was a man who clearly did not get enough attention as a child.

Then he began showing women’s wear last year, and suddenly his name was everywhere. Michelle Obama wore one of his creations for her inaugural morning outfit. Constructed from a silk jacquard fabric used for men’s neckties, her navy blue coat was seen by millions on televisions around the world. Mr. Browne himself did not learn that Mrs. Obama had selected his outfit until a half-hour after television viewers started sending him text messages. He was in Paris at the time, following his men’s wear runway show. Critics were astonished that Michelle Obama was secure enough to wear clothing by a designer who had previously sought attention by outfitting men in dresses, three-legged suits and see-through overcoats (and that’s not the half).

Browne was profiled in the New York Times a week ago, but I just now got around to reading it. The 47-year-old designer, who hails from Allentown, PA, was a competitive swimmer in high school and college. He says he was influenced by the 1960s fashions of conservative America, resulting in his revisionist cardigan sweaters, seersucker shorts, bow ties and Oxford cloth shirts.

On a personal level, he is partnered with Andrew Bolton (right), a curator at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. They live in a sparsely furnished Greenwich Village apartment where Browne dedicates time on a treadmill every day. Browne’s father lived the conservative life of an attorney, and Thom and Andrew say they also live a quiet, non-splashy lifestyle.

Although Browne apprenticed at Armani and Club Monaco in the 1990s, he says he learned everything he knows from Rocco Ciccarelli, the tailor who owns the factory that makes all of Browne’s clothes. Browne debuted his own line relatively late, when he was already in his late 30s. In the ten years he has been showing his men’s line, he won awards from the Council of Fashion Designers of America and GQ magazine. When he won the National Design Award from the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the award’s patron was Michelle Obama.

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