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NDIAS announces designer Thom Browne as artist-in-residence

The Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study (NDAIS) announced that Thom Browne ‘88, a former GQ Designer of the Year and three-time winner of the CFDA Menswear Designer of the Year Award, is this year’s artist-in-residence.

Browne graduated from Notre Dame with a degree in business in 1988, and he launched his fashion company in 2001. His designs have been featured in museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. He is known for his reconceptualization of the suit, and he has dressed celebrities like LeBron James, Michelle Obama and Cardi B.

Each year, NDAIS gathers a group of faculty fellows, graduate students and undergraduate scholars to address a central research theme, which for 2022-2023 academic year, is “The Public.”

Thom Browne joins nine other faculty fellows, including three Notre Dame professors, a writer from the New York Times, and faculty from Villanova University, the University of Michigan, Northwestern University, the University of Washington and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Meghan Sullivan, director of NDAIS, Wilsey Family College Professor of Philosophy and author of “The Good Life Method,” explained the key questions guiding the theme.

“What’s great about public life, what’s challenging about public life? What do we want public life to be like in the future? Where did our ideas of the public-private distinction come from? How does public life matter to us?” Sullivan said.

NDAIS staff and a faculty advisory board announce the theme a year in advance, and it usually involves a “big, ethical question,” Sullivan said. 

“Go back in your mental time machine to January 2021, December 2020. It was peak pandemic, social distancing was everywhere,” Sullivan said. “And I think something that was very much on the minds of all the Notre Dame folks that we were talking to is ‘we want public life to come back, we want to be able to be in public spaces again, but we have no idea what that’s gonna look like.’”

NDAIS seeks to recruit a non-professor who is involved in the theme to be a faculty fellow each year. They were inspired by the connection between Browne’s designs — which often involve suits and formal event wear — and the idea of a person’s public appearance.

“[Browne] is the top designer in men’s fashion for sure right now,” Sullivan said. “When it comes to top fashion designers who engage athletes and celebrities, he’s everywhere. And his work is weird and cool. You can’t look at that picture of Oscar Isaac in a skirt and not start doing philosophy.”

Sullivan said that she has a few goals for Browne’s engagement with Notre Dame this year. 

“One, ​​I want the Notre Dame community to realize that top fashion designers, like Thom, say and make interesting arguments about public life and what it means to us in ways that other people cannot,” she said. “Second, we want for Thom’s engagements to elevate conversation and attention about how seriously Notre Dame takes art and design.”

Sullivan also wants to give Notre Dame students a chance to “peek behind the curtain” of a business and fashion empire.

Browne will visit campus each semester, and both visits will include public-facing events.

On Oct. 25, Browne and Notre Dame alumnus Michael Hainey, former editor of GQ magazine, will sit down to discuss how fashion influences public life. 

During his spring visit, Browne will engage with a one-credit course titled “Strong Suits: The Art, Philosophy, and Business of Thom Browne,” which is co-taught by Sullivan and Michael Schreffler, associate dean for the arts and associate professor in the Department of Art, Art History and Design. 

The course will meet each Friday for six weeks, and class discussions and guest speakers will revolve around academic perspectives on the Thom Browne company. The course will culminate in lunch with Thom Browne where students are encouraged to ask the designer questions, Sullivan said. The application for the class is due on Monday, Oct. 3.

Finally, Browne will host his annual touch football game/fashion show at Notre Dame this fall.

The football game usually takes place in Central Park and is attended by models, actors, fashion editors, photographers, dancers and other artists. Every “player” wears the latest Thom Browne designs.

“It’s really meant to kind of celebrate touch football as a family activity for a lot of Americans on Thanksgiving and to celebrate the connection of his brand with this piece of Americana and American culture which he obviously came to love when he was a student at Notre Dame,” Sullivan said.

This year, 30 students can volunteer to be outfitted in Thom Browne designs and participate in the touch football game. Students can apply to be in the football “draft” before Sept. 25.

“It’s kind of a fashion show for him. It’s kind of a public art piece. It’s kind of marketing. It’s a bunch of things all at once,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said she is very excited to invite a distinguished Notre Dame alumnus back as an artist-in-residence. 

“To realize that, just in our own backyard, we have this depth of talent to pull from and engage, I think it shows that Notre Dame is the best in the world when it comes to this kind of work,” she said.

Contact Katie Muchnick at kmuchnic@nd.edu.

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