Repetition spiked with variation leads to evolution. Once you read the small print, that was the austerely presented but richly demonstrated message of a Moncler Gamme Bleu show that was initially an elusive proposition to fathom. It started with four clusters of models in identically proportioned down jackets in four different color groupings and a wide variety of fabrications. In skullcaps, goggles, and wide pants with zippers or poppers at the side (that should have been a clue to one of the references), they wanly circled a line of slender saplings before standing in front of their respective trees under conveniently placed clothes hangers. Suddenly suffused in a volley of strobes, they did a Magic Mike, whipping off their pants and coats. When the lighting stabilized, the models stood before us, changed. Those broad pants and the first down coats, now hanging in their hands to reveal internal zippers (so, reversible), had been replaced by almost identically proportioned down-filled, popper-buttoned, high-hemmed jackets and jodhpurs. The suggestion—and you expect a sporting reference at Gamme Bleu—was of jockeys’ colors. This idea was reinforced by the checks, harlequin diamonds, flashes, crosses, and stripes that decorated the clothes. The jackets ranged in material from nylon to fur, via tweed, knit, and more.
The only thing to do when a collection raises so many questions is to ask the designer to explain. Thom Browne said: “We were paying homage to that original Moncler down-filled jacket from the ’50s. I saw one in the archives. That’s what all the outerwear pieces were at the start.” Before Remo Ruffini took control of Moncler just over a decade ago and set about retooling it for the 21st century—plus overseeing an extremely successful stock-market flotation—it was a deflated French skiwear manufacturer whose days as a cool brand among young Italian preppies were a fading memory. When the label was founded, however, it was a mountaineering brand that brought the down-filled coat to Europe from Canada via the French climber Lionel Terray. So this, at least in silhouette, was the original.
Browne continued: “I was marrying that jacket with the first jacket I did for Gamme Bleu, which was the down-filled sports coat. And then the fabrics and the patterns came in—a loose reference to jockey uniforms.” And the skullcaps? “They were just last-minute. At the beginning I wanted the models to be almost like factory workers, and it just sort of commoditized all of them,” he added. “The music is from the soundtrack to Metropolis, from the scene at the beginning where they walk into the factory.” With the minor caveat that the performance obscured the fact that we were seeing Moncler’s very first product—or at least a memory of it—this was a home run of a Gamme Bleu show that was at turns both bemusing and breathtaking.