Strong Suits is a one credit “pop-up course”: a course where we analyze a single case study from many different disciplinary lenses. We interview key figures, gather every detail we can find, and even venture out into the field to study elements of the case first-hand. Pop-up courses are a chance for a group of undergraduates (and professors) to intensely geek out about a topic of mutual fascination. In Spring 2023, we’ve chosen to immerse ourselves in the design, philosophy, and business behind Thom Browne, Inc. Over his twenty year career, Thom Browne has revolutionized how we think about suits. His wildly creative designs have started major debates about individuality, uniformity, play, celebrity, and belonging. In the process Browne has become a leader in the world of luxury fashion. Taking a 360 degree look at the shorts, the skirts, the lobster purses… we hope to uncover insights about how high-end design shapes business and culture. Each of our seminars picks up on a different way of interpreting and debating Thom Browne. We will look at how garments go from design to construction; how journalists cover developments in fashion; how design generates its own distinctive philosophical and cultural language; the business model behind growing a major luxury brand; and the fascinating symbiosis between athletics, celebrity, and the runway. From tipped jackets to trademark law, no topic is off limits. We want to get to the bottom of how suits get so strong.
Each session we are joined by a secret expert guest (or guests) with an insider's perspective on our question of the week. In February we are headed to Fashion Week to see Thom Browne’s runway production up close and to investigate the ways that fashion interacts with museum collections and performance art. Our course will end with each student producing their own creative work inspired by something we discover: a design, an article on fashion, a business plan, a performance. Our goal is to turn our inexhaustible curiosity into something we can also contribute to the public conversation. We firmly believe that fashion – and the ideas that fashion enables – are for everyone. We’re excited to welcome you into the world of Strong Suits!
More info on required readings, discussion topics, and special guests for each of these class modules is below.
The enthusiastic creators of Strong Suits are Profs. Meghan Sullivan and Michael Schreffler.
Meghan Sullivan is the Wilsey Family Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study. She does not have any traditional design credentials but is a self-certified Lego master-builder, has been training in the plastic brick craft since age three. After her breakthrough hit at age ten -- Rectangular Submarine -- she moved on to become an avid contributor to the City, Space and Star Wars Lego themes. In 2015, she commissioned the Death Star to celebrate achieving tenure in the Notre Dame Philosophy Department. In 2019 she added a detailed Saturn V model and a functional Vestas Wind Turbine to her collection. Visitors to the Institute for Advanced Study can also see a Lego replica of the Institute and a not-quite-licensed Catholic Mass Lego set on display. Sullivan's design work has been featured on exactly one podcast.
Michael Schreffler is Associate Professor of Art History at Notre Dame and the Associate Dean for the Fine Arts in the College of Arts and Letters. He traces the origins of his interest in art and design to his Catholic grade-school education. He remembers having a special fondness for the school uniform: navy cardigan sweater, shirt and tie, dress trousers, and dress shoes. He experimented with ways to vary the look, but in retrospect he wishes he would have been more creative like the guys on Elite are with their school uniforms.
The administrative team for Strong Suits consists of Jeff Tolly and our indomitable research assistant, Luisana Gonzalez DiTillio.
Jeff Tolly is the Assistant Director for Educational Initiatives at NDIAS and is also new to the world of high end fashion design-- that is an understatement of colossal proportions. To date, his most daring fashion adventure consisted of wearing a stark red and black ninja costume in the student section at home Davidson College basketball games, cheering on Steph Curry and the Wildcats en route to their magical Elite 8 run in the March Madness tournament of '08. After these events, Jeff became a philosopher who ponders the good, the true, and the beautiful--which includes Steph Curry's jump shot.
As a college senior (and English major), Luisana longs for the budget to become the fashionista of her dreams, but is often pleasantly surprised by the findings from the South Bend Goodwill. She's been lucky to grow up around some serious style inspirations, including her dad and his in-house, permanent collection of three state park baseball caps, which embody--in his words--'real vintage’. Gonzalez is thrilled to be a part of this project and secretly hopes to see all male university faculty in pleated knee-length skirts by the end of the spring.