Lauren Tsai, Thom Browne, and the Art of Storytelling

The artist and actress talks art and artistry at the brand’s new West Coast outpost

In Partnership with THOM BROWNE
Words by


Lauren Tsai is in Japan thinking about death. “I don’t always want to be thinking about death,” she admits, “but I do think it’s OK to let that be something that motivates you. To remember that nothing really matters, so everything you do should matter. Accepting that nothing matters is a very freeing thing.”

This might sound like heavy conversation fodder, but it’s not. It’s strangely elegiac and hopeful, much like Tsai herself. For instance, the 23-year-old artist is talking specifically about her creativity, her fear of being judged, and how criticism can sometimes feel so devastating it becomes a roadblock. But if you pull back and think of the Big Picture, suddenly it empowers you to be bold in your work and take risks, because, well, why the hell not? This serves Tsai well. “For a couple of years, I was living my life and creating my work as if there was a right and wrong answer,” she said. “Now, I really feel that if you’re trying to answer a question, then what you’re really doing is putting yourself in a box.”


Lauren Tsai wears THOM BROWNE Fall/Winter 2021 inside the brand’s new South Coast Plaza store.


Tsai was recently photographed in the fall/winter collection from the designer Thom Browne, a creative soul she feels particularly aligned with. It makes sense: Browne’s is an artist who, like Tsai, isn’t afraid to toy with darker themes and bring them to life in unexpected, alluring ways. She road-tested the collection at the Noguchi Garden in Costa Mesa, near the recently-opened Thom Browne store at South Coast Plaza, and then inside the shop. At 2,500-square-feet, it’s the New York-based label’s first standalone outpost on the West Coast. Keeping in line with previous stores, its interior was designed by Flavio Albanese of ASA studio Albanese and recalls the elegance of a mid-century office building: slatted window blinds, carrera marble floors, gray walls, and furniture designed by beloved creators like Knoll, Wormley, and McCobb, to name a few. Across two ares there is you will find sportswear and tailoring alongside accessories with a separate space for eyewear and Thom Browne Vetyver fragrances.

Tsai’s life and artistic persona is a study in beautiful contradictions. Born in Massachusetts, she moved to Hawaii as a child and now splits her time between the US and Japan (“Every time I go back and forth, I think I grow a deeper appreciation for both countries,” she said). She works in various mediums: as a visual artist and sometimes a model and actress. Her introduction to public-facing life as a star of “Terrace House: Aloha State,” a refreshingly drama-free reality show that chronicles the lives of strangers living under the same roof.


Inside the brand’s new South Coast Plaza store.


One gets the sense, though, that visual art is Tsai’s preferred medium — it’s one that she can exert complete control over and execute entirely by herself. “It’s crazy because like my earliest memories are of drawing under my nightlight,” she said. “Drawing and storytelling was the first thing that I loved. My mom told me when I was two or three I would get out of my bed at night and sneak out under my desk and draw. As long as I can remember I have been using art to try to tell stories. And that’s absolutely what I want to focus on moving forward.”


“As long as I can remember I have been using art to try to tell stories. And that’s absolutely what I want to focus on moving forward”

Lauren Tsai


Lauren Tsai wears THOM BROWNE Fall/Winter 2021 inside the brand’s new South Coast Plaza store.


Tsai’s illustrative work is otherworldly and strange, influenced by anime and comic books. It’s transfixing and beautiful but also bizarre at times, and tinged with a certain intergalactic darkness. And while her dreamy tales play out on the page or canvas, her oeuvre also includes an underlying thread of performance. From playing a version of herself on “Terrace House” to her acting work in the TV show “Legion” and this year’s coming-of-age dramedy “Moxie,” Tsai has talents beyond the visual arts. Even her modeling, to a degree, is a performance.

“I really feel that it’s an opportunity to perform, and to become all these different characters and versions of yourself,” she said. “That can be so fulfilling. And it’s a beautiful process to collaborate with a photographer with a really strong vision.”

As Tsai remembers it, she was first introduced to Browne’s designs in Japan, after seeing a glimpse of his signature grosgrain stripe on a sleeve. That evocative detail was enough to create a penetrating impression. “There’s just something so beautiful about Thom’s uniforms,” she said. “In the material and the concept and the way they’re put together. It’s so timeless and, in a way, that makes the person who’s wearing it also feel timeless. When I’m wearing Thom Browne, I feel like an extremely powerful version of myself.”


Lauren Tsai wears THOM BROWNE Fall/Winter 2021 in the Noguchi Garden, Costa Mesa.


Like Tsai, Browne’s work is intent not just on creating beautiful clothes but telling a story, creating worlds. And sometimes those stories aren’t the typical fashion fantasies of glamour—there was even one of Browne’s early womenswear collections which recalled a very chic funeral, complete with mourning widows in veils. Like Tsai, he finds creative freedom in the macabre.

When we spoke, Tsai was halfway through a mandatory quarantine in Japan but was looking forward to what came next. She’ll be shooting a TV show there, in Japanese, and working with animators on an animated project. She’s also expanding her artistic vistas, working on a sculpture. Needless to say, there’s a lot to look forward to. “I feel like over the past two months I’ve woken up from a very long dream,” she says. “I finally feel like I have that sense of self-worth I haven’t had for a very long time. And I think that throughout the past handful of years, I have been kind of acting as different versions of myself.” South Coast Plaza, 3333 Bristol St., #2632, Costa Mesa, CA 92626; 714-410-8485.


Feature image: Lauren Tsai wears THOM BROWNE Fall/Winter 2021 inside the brand’s new South Coast Plaza store.


September 15, 2021

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