Browns 50: The Family Album
Much of the beauty of fashion lies in the power it has to conjure memories. Letting the past inform the future; whether that’s dusting off a favourite look to wear again, taking inspiration from an archive, or cringing with friends about the terrible trends of yesteryear. Fashion memories hold a special kind of magic, a kind of sartorial scent that makes remembering those moments that much more fun. To celebrate 50 years of Browns, we asked some of our nearest and dearest to share these memories with us.
“This photo was taken at my first presentation for SS15,” recalls designer Molly Goddard, who shared a picture of her friend Moffy wearing one of her early designs. “It was initially a party I planned with my boyfriend, having just failed my MA. I wanted something to show for the work I had done, so I made 15 dresses for my friends to wear to the party we threw in a church hall in Mayfair. We drank rum punch and had a wedding singer. It turned out buyers were watching - the following week I took orders for the collection and what became the brand!”
For Manolo Blahnik, his memories of starting his label began much earlier, when an encounter with the legendary Diana Vreeland prompted the erstwhile set designer to pivot towards making shoes. “At the time I was interested in a career as a set designer – I had a huge portfolio of designs, of film and theatre sets, costumes. Dear Paloma Picasso, a lifelong friend, arranged for me to show my drawings to Diana Vreeland. I was utterly terrified. I am still terrified thinking about it. She looked at my drawings and then she started to scream. ‘How amuuusing. Amusing.’ That was all she kept saying: ‘amusing.’ Then she said: ‘You can do accessories very well. Why don’t you do that? Go make shoes. Your shoes in these drawings are so witty, amusing.’ I had never really thought about making shoes, but then when someone as venerable and knowledgeable as Mrs Vreeland asks you, you do what you are told. It was like a commandment from God.”
However there was another, equally legendary woman who also had a hand in Blahnik’s success: the inimitable Joan Burstein, (Mrs B for short). The woman who began the story of Browns back in 1970 when she took over a small shop front on London’s South Molton Street, transforming it into the iconic fashion mainstay it is today.
John Galliano, whose graduate collection was snapped up by Mrs B, recalls fondly: “June 28th, 1984. That was the date of my first revolution – Les Incroyables – and Mrs. B saw something in it that changed my life. Congratulations to Browns on being 50 years in fashion; for all the inspiration, support and adventures - for those we’ve shared, and those still to come – THANK YOU, Mrs. B.”
Bestselling fashion writer and journalist Camilla Morton remembers the party Mrs B threw for her on the advent of her second book, A Girl For All Seasons. “I remember it was the main Monday of fashion week, so everyone was really busy, but Mrs. B wanted Browns and LFW to support me, and because she was there everyone came. I remember guests included Diane Von Furstenberg, Roland Mouret, Pat McGrath, Stephen Jones. Everyone there was ‘family’ - all connected in some way to Browns.”
Recalling her outfit for the party, Morton describes: “Rather than being in a studio or writing reviews all night, here I am in a dress that Mrs B suggested, fitted and cut for me, from the last collection designed by Jil Sander, obviously worn with new magical Manolos, standing with my Fairy Godmother.”
It’s this that stands out in the memories of many: Browns’ knack for a good party. “My fondest memory of Browns?” Twin magazine founder Becky Smith recalls. “The Browns East launch party - not wanting the party to end.” For journalist Pam Boy, Browns was more a place for relaxation. “My fondest memory of Browns would be any time I would go into the store when I used to live in London,” he says. “Those visits were always the type of rare retail experiences that comfort and soothe.”
Nevertheless, it was with the party spirit in mind that designers such as Pucci took to creating their pieces for the Browns 50 collaborative collection. “The inspiration is drawn by the glorious swinging 60s and the jet-set lifestyle of that time that perfectly enhances the notion of fun, freedom and sophistication so inherent to the Pucci spirit,” describes Laudomia Pucci. “My most fun memories of Browns date from Spring 1990 when the whole window was in Pucci… and Madonna walked out of the store wearing a Pucci dress I had designed.”
The party spirit is captured in the height of fashion moments of many of today’s notable industry faces. For writer Raven Smith, his was in an emerald green suit, walking the red carpet at the 2019 fashion awards. “Every time I scroll back through old outfits I feel a rising sense of nausea, like I possibly got dressed in the dark. But this suit is perfect, there's nothing I'd change or tweak. I felt like a million dollar bill.”
Getting dressed in the dark is one thing, but DJing in the dark is quite another. For British radio host Nick Grimshaw, the moment arrived at a Miami DJ set, which saw him don a white tuxedo and sunglasses to play a New Year’s Eve party. “I wore the suit with a pair of yellow Tom Ford sunglasses which is really obnoxious, to DJ at night in sunglasses. But I thought it just completed the look, so I took one for the team. The mixing was terrible, but I looked great!” He laughs.
For DJ Honey Dijon, she shared a similarly amusing story from after her set at the Browns X Halpern launch party. Her Height Of Fashion moment? “Wearing a full Halpern ensemble in a Hamburger restaurant. Fashion is a way to live, it's not limited to special occasions – be chic at all times, from the Hamburger spot to the disco.”
Needless to say, our appetite for fashion nostalgia has yet to be sated. Over the course of our 50th celebration, we’ll be sharing even more fashionable memories from our community. Just follow @brownsfashion and @brownsmens for more, and tag us in your own Height Of Fashion moments using the hashtag #Browns50.
In order of appearance: Robert Forrest, Edward Crutchley and Ed Munro, Duran Lantink, Molly Goddard, Naomi Campbell, Adam Katz Sinding, Nick Grimshaw, Holli Rogers, Mrs B, Manolo Blahnik and Diana Vreeland, Camilla Morton, Mrs B, Raven Smith, Roksanda Ilincic, Peter Ash Lee and Honey Dijon.