An American in Paris: Thom Browne on his theatrical haute couture debut

American designer Thom Browne – part of the Wallpaper* USA 300 – tells the story behind his haute couture debut, which took place earlier this week in Paris’ storied Palais Garnier

Thom Browne, backstage at his first haute couture show in Paris (July 3, 2023)
Thom Browne, backstage at his first haute couture show in Paris (July 3, 2023)
(Image credit: Photography by Corey Tenold)

Thom Browne’s love of theatrics came together in a spectacular way for his first-ever haute couture presentation in Paris this week, a landmark show which celebrated 20 years of the American designer’s eponymous label.

Browne, the chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America – and featured in the Wallpaper* USA 300, our guide to creative America – not only presented his inaugural couture collection within the storied opera hall of the Palais Garnier but invited guests to enter through the Opera’s backstage, meandering through its intricate inner workings and internal architecture, before surprisingly seating them on the stage itself, facing a full theatre filled with two-dimensional replicas dressed in Thom Browne uniforms. 

Thom Browne on his debut haute couture show

Thom Browne haute couture set

The set for the show, which took place at Paris’ Palais Garnier

(Image credit: Courtesy of Thom Browne)

‘Showing on the stage at the Opera is such an honour,’ Browne tells Wallpaper* about the memorable concept. ‘I wanted guests to feel like they were a part of the production. So, entering from backstage and being surprised to find that they’re being watched. The long staircase and inner workings of the Opera were important to showcase to show everyone all of the hard work it takes to put on a production, [be it] an Opera or Thom Browne Couture.’

He adds, ‘for this show, [the idea] started with the Visage song, Fade to Grey. From there, I built a world that was worthy of being showcased on the stage at the Opera; set in a train station, fantasies coming to life around you and our protagonist, only to realise that everything we wanted was right there in front of us.’

Models backstage at Thom Browne Couture

Backstage at the show

(Image credit: Photography by Corey Tenold)

Storytelling has long been one of Browne’s strong suits, part of the reason he was selected as part of the Wallpaper* USA 300 – a celebration of the United State’s unique creative landscape and those who populate it.

His ability to create ephemeral, fantasy worlds, whether it's in adapting well-loved tales – his last womenswear show in Paris was a Cinderella-inspired extravaganza starring Gwendoline Christie – or crafting entirely new ones, he is an exciting ambassador for American fashion. It’s a role he does not take lightly, and one that we’re celebrating with his inclusion in our guide to creative America.’

Thom Browne haute couture

The collection’s closing bridal look – a tradition of haute couture

(Image credit: Photography by Corey Tenold)

‘It was so important to showcase American design on such an important stage, and during such an important week,’ he says, of the decision to present a couture collection. ‘To show the world that there is so much talent in America, so much craftsmanship, so much creativity. And to show what our design team is capable of doing in an elevated way and understandable way. Every season, I push myself and our design team to be the best we’ve ever been. With couture, this is no exception.’

Pei-Ru Keh is a former US Editor at Wallpaper*. Born and raised in Singapore, she has been a New Yorker since 2013. Pei-Ru held various titles at Wallpaper* between 2007 and 2023. She reports on design, tech, art, architecture, fashion, beauty and lifestyle happenings in the United States, both in print and digitally. Pei-Ru took a key role in championing diversity and representation within Wallpaper's content pillars, actively seeking out stories that reflect a wide range of perspectives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and is currently learning how to drive.