Thom Browne on what goes into styling Samsung’s latest foldables

The Olympics inspired this year’s design.

Cherlynn Low / Engadget

When Samsung introduced the original Galaxy Z Flip in 2020, it surprised us all with a “one last thing.” The company revealed special editions of the Flip, Galaxy Buds and Galaxy Watch styled by American designer Thom Browne. Since then, every foldable Samsung has launched has come in a special Thom Browne (TB) version. Just 3,500 units of these limited edition bundles are available each time, and according to Browne, “they sell out supposedly in minutes.”

This year, Samsung is offering the Thom Browne bundles of the Fold 3 and Flip 3 for $3,449 and $2,349 respectively. Each box comes with TB-themed versions of the foldable, Buds 2, Galaxy Watch 4, wireless charger trio and a selection of cases and straps. The regular Fold 3, Buds 2, Watch 4 and wireless charger cost $1,799, $150, $250 and $80 respectively, bringing the total to about $2,280, not including the cases and straps. So you’re paying about $1,000 more for the Thom Browne aesthetic.

The packaging for the special edition Fold 3 bundle is extravagant. Each device has its own labelled container and sits in slots carved out inside a giant box. Thankfully, most of the packaging is paper, so I didn’t feel too guilty about the environmental impact. A drawer beneath the devices holds all the accessories, like a pair of TB-themed straps for the watch, a case for the Fold 3 and covers for the Buds 2’s charging case. There’s also a special S Pen Pro in the Fold bundle that’s white with blue and red stripes on the inside.

All the devices have Thom Browne branding on them, and this year’s set features the designer’s signature stripes in red, white and blue. It’s a deliberate selection of colors meant to be an homage to American sportswear, but also acknowledge that it’s an Olympic year.

“The reference to the red, white and blue, and specifically the white with the red trim felt very reminiscent of old Olympics and old Olympics uniforms,” Browne told Engadget. “I love sports, I love athletes, I’ve been so inspired by athletes at that level,” he said. (He’s a swimmer, in case you were wondering. And while we’re in a parenthetical, I’m a thrower.)

But the stripe-centric design and familiar color scheme have always been a part of the Samsung bundles, which Browne said is “something that feels very signature to me.” He’s made sure to keep recognizable elements from his brand on them, because he felt people “would have been disappointed if it were to be approached any differently.”

Not only does the motif appear on the Galaxy devices’ externally, the Fold 3 and Watch 4 also have custom wallpapers in TB themes. The default background on the special edition Fold is covered in the designer’s signature gray-and-white vertical lines with a small postage stamp-esque square in the middle as the clock widget. At the top center of the screen is a small band of the red-white-and-blue pattern that’s reminiscent of a fabric bookmark. System icons and fonts match the overall theme as well.

Galaxy Z Fold 3 Thom Browne edition
Cherlynn Low / Engadget

Though there aren’t any differences in size between the TB edition devices and their standard counterparts, the shiny metal finish on the branded Fold and Watch make them feel sleeker somehow. I also vastly prefer the Thom Browne watch straps to Samsung’s boring, chunky versions. And though there isn’t much room on the buds for the company to add design flourishes, I love that it still managed to paint little strips of red-white-and-blue on each headphone. Though in that shape, they look like color-reversed French flags.

Now that the Thom Browne versions of these devices are in their third iteration, the designer is pretty familiar with the process of coming up with them. Each edition has taken about a year to create, and Browne said that the “most important thing for these collaborations is that you see the best from both parties.”

For Browne, the partnership has been a “really good, very supportive, mutually respectful relationship” that’s lasted over 15 years. Though the special edition foldables have only been around for about two years, Samsung has carried his collections in its stores in the past. But the opportunity to create a Thom Browne version of the original Z Flip was intriguing. Browne said the first phone he ever had was a flip phone, so “it was interesting to me, the idea of that iconic phone being reintroduced, yet, making it a very relevant device for today.”

Samsung Thom Browne edition bundle box

Though Browne says Samsung has never put any limits on how he wanted to approach his designs for the devices, something he would make if anything was possible would be a phone made from pure gold. “That would be a challenge that I would like to give to Samsung.”

Perhaps because of how content he is with the partnership, Browne said he wouldn’t want to work with any other company in this field. He’s not thinking of making a Thom Browne smartwatch, though he’s open to considering other Samsung products.

Ultimately, the biggest benefit for him is probably visibility. “I hope, in a way, that the phone introduces a lot of new people to the world of Thom Browne.”

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