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Thom Browne to Curate Sotheby’s ‘Visions of America’ Auction Series

The designer and CFDA chairman will front the auction house’s January sale of American paintings, furniture, ceramics and other objects, including a fashion selection in partnership with the CFDA, meant to hammer home the idea of American fashion as art, said Browne.
Thom Browne to curate Sotheby's "Visions of America" auction in January.
Thom Browne to curate Sotheby's "Visions of America" auction in January. (Courtesy)

Sotheby’s has tapped designer and CFDA chairman Thom Browne to curate its upcoming “Visions of America” auction series. The auction will include 500 items across art, furniture, spirits and a collection of archival looks from American fashion designers. That collection, titled “Defining American Style,” will be created in collaboration with the CFDA.

An exhibition will run from Jan. 12 to 20, with sales to follow from Jan. 20 to 29 in New York. The “Defining American Style” collection will be auctioned online on Jan. 23.

In his role as curator, Browne created an edit highlighting nine works that he resonated with most and found to be indicative of American artistry, including Charles Willson Peale’s portrait of George Washington and Thomas Moran’s Green River, Wyoming landscape as well as Chippendale chairs and a Qing Dynasty punch bowl.

“I’m an American designer and I thought it would be interesting to really represent American art through my eyes,” said Browne.

Browne first approached Sotheby’s about a partnership shortly after his appointment as CFDA chairman in January. In May, the two announced they would collaborate on an auction, now part of the wider “Visions of America.” Proceeds from the “Defining American Style” auction, which Browne hopes to turn into an annual event, will go toward funding scholarships and mentorship for emerging designers through the CFDA Foundation.

Featuring around 30 designers from the establishment to the new guard, says Browne, the fashion auction — which has yet to be finalised — will include pieces from the red carpet, or looks that hone in on a particular designers’ approach to design. Though pieces haven’t been revealed yet, Browne said the plan is to include items well-known in fashion history, such as Diane von Fürstenberg’s first wrap dress. (Sotheby’s did not confirm whether the piece will be in the auction.)

The hope is that viewers will get a sense of the diverse stories and approaches to making fashion in America, especially at this moment, said Browne.

“There are so many talented, creative designers right now, it will be a good representation of what’s happening now in America,” said Browne.

Association with Sotheby’s will also put the fashion directly in conversation with high art, said Browne. He sees it as an extension of the work his life partner Andrew Bolton has done in elevating fashion at The Metropolitan Museum of Art as Wendy Yu curator in charge.

“[The auction is] so important, especially for American designers, who get so easily pigeonholed into just being commercial designers,” said Browne. “I want designers to really give themselves the credit of being an artist.”

While curating the fashion edit, Browne thought about what pieces represented designers’ work at the highest level — and what had the potential of attracting museum-associated buyers.

Sotheby’s believes working with Browne will help it broaden the reach and create excitement around its Americana division. Lately, auction houses have leaned more heavily into fashion — auctioning Birkin bags and sneakers — to build buzz and attract new, younger clientele.

Learn more:

Fashion’s Future at Auction Houses

Traditional auction houses like Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Philips — known for selling Warhols, Picassos and antiques — are using Birkins and Jordans to cultivate their next generation of collectors.

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