Thom Browne had to make a choice in college: play tennis or swim competitively. He picked swimming.
But his love for tennis remains and it’s on full view in his Thom Browne Tennis Pro Shop, an exclusive new store he opened at the private club EPI in Saint-Tropez.
The 500-square-foot space is located at 1128 Route de l’Épi, 83350 Ramatuelle along the beach and is near to some of the community’s best-known restaurants and luxury resorts.
The appointment-only shop with Browne’s signature Venetian blind-covered windows mimics the design of the company’s Miami flagship but in lighter tones to complement EPI’s minimalistic wellness and sport-inspired aesthetic.
It features a red, white and blue subway tile stripe that runs the length of the shop, connecting the resort to a private sitting area for shoppers. The space is outfitted in mid-century furniture by American and French designers including Dunbar by Edward Wormley, Paul McCobb, Jacques Adnet, Pierre Jeanneret and George Nakashima.
The shop was developed in partnership with Flavio Albanese and uses gray tiles to invoke a vintage locker room vibe. Browne credited Albanese with having “a good understanding of me in regards to doing different concepts.”
The assortment includes the designer’s ready-to-wear, tailoring and accessories along with a limited-edition, EPI-branded Thom Browne capsule collection that will be further developed every season.
“I swam and played tennis growing up,” Browne said. “And at one point, you have to choose if you’re going to be competitive in one of them. My father wanted me to play tennis, and I turned around and chose to swim,” he added with a laugh.
John McEnroe curated the tennis program at EPI including the clay courts that were inspired by those at the French Open, and after the founding members of the club approached Browne about getting involved, he got to be friendly with the former pro.
“I met him through this project, but of course, I grew up watching McEnroe,” Browne said. “He’s one of those iconic athletes. Even watching Kyrgios this past weekend, [Nick Kyrgios, the outspoken runner-up at Wimbledon this year] you remember the amazing personality that McEnroe was back in his day, and how he brought such a personality to tennis, which I think people still remember.”
With Kyrgios, he continued, “whether you like him or not, he is adding a new dimension to tennis, which I think is really interesting. And John McEnroe certainly did that.”
McEnroe is part of the founding group of EPI, he said, and helped create the resort, which he described as “amazing.”
“Traveling is probably the only time I ever even go into a store,” he continued. “So this type of concept, in regards to bringing tailoring to the South of France, I thought was interesting. I loved the level of everything that they did at EPI and it adds a new dimension to the world of Thom Browne that still stays true to the tailored sensibility and the sports sensibility.”
He said the assortment at the shop includes “more resort-specific pieces” that “stay true to the tailored sensibility of the blockchain. And everything is at a very high level because the customer at EPI is a very wealthy customer, and they appreciate the quality of what they’re going to see in this tennis pro shop.”
That includes swimwear, nylon ready-to-wear, seersucker tailoring, knitwear and accessories.
Like his first store in New York’s Meatpacking District, the shop will be available by appointment only. “It’s a very special shop, and I want the experience to be really special for people,” he said. “And you know, 20 years later, it does feel like the approach of my first store which was simply making sure people were treated really specially because the product is really special.”
Browne said that while there may not be other tennis shops, the store could open up another avenue of growth for the company — travel retail.
“I’d be excited about having retail in airports and in other resorts like this, because it’s a nice way of expanding our offering to our existing customers, and also attract a new customer. When you travel, you’re kind of like a captive audience. So it’s a really nice way of introducing yourself to people.”
The fact that the tennis shop opened in France is not too surprising considering the designer’s admiration for the country. He has been showing his collections there for a number of years and will be holding his next women’s show there on Oct. 1.
“I love doing my shows in Paris,” he said, but when pressed for what he’s preparing to walk down the runway in the fall, he declined to tip his hand.
“The pressure is on because I loved what I did in the last collection and this one has to be better,” he said of the couture-inspired men’s collection that he showed in Paris in June, with a finale that included a chaps-wearing cowboy — with bare buttocks. “So it’s going to be a great experience.”