It’s curious how many of Thom Browne’s shows begin with protagonists in a deep, immobilizing sleep. You might think everything that follows is taking place in a languid dream state. Tonight was no exception. In a set that could have been borrowed from Steven Soderbergh’s The Knick, blond beauties slumbered in a state of living death, lovingly tended to by gilded male angels, until they were awakened by the touch of a glamorous black-clad Grim Reaper. It was just the kind of dislocating, time-stretching gambit with which Browne loves to set his scene.

But if that was business as usual, the rest of the performance took Browne to places he’d never been before. A black denim miniskirt? With zips? And Chelsea boots? That look alone was almost enough to establish this collection’s credentials as Browne’s most youthful and accessible to date. But miraculously, as contemporary as it was, it also amplified the story Browne was telling—or maybe the movie he was making in his mind. Like his men’s show in January, this one was inspired by Death Becomes Her, the Metropolitan Museum’s exhibition of mourning clothes from the 19th century. The inspiration was more potent in this context, because young widows were held in such peculiar regard at that time. Sexually seasoned, yet unattached by circumstance, they must have posed a threat to a social order that was dictated by allegiance to wives and families. A zippered miniskirt could be construed as the modern embodiment of such a threat.

OK, there we go on the kind of tangent that Browne’s collections can induce in the fancifully inclined. But this was one time when it felt like fun to really, really go there. His soundtrack was a lengthy track from Björk’s new album, mourning the death of a relationship. Browne’s sleeping beauties were dead of a broken heart. The black-clad, fishnet-stockinged harpies who moved glacially through the set were the kind of creatures who would revenge those poor shattered souls. And the clothes that Browne gave them had a luxurious, linear quality that was new for the designer, because it was so strong and straightforward. Even in a guipure lace coat trimmed in black mink, or a portrait-shouldered coat dress in moiré mink intarsia, or a horsehair-trimmed coat in embroidered PVC, or a cable-knit astrakhan. In other words, the fabrics were as exquisitely intangible as they always are in a Thom Browne collection, with the distinct difference that they were cut into outfits that were almost fiercely direct.

Browne loves black-and-white movies, especially when they’re silent: old Charlie Chaplin films, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. The opulent fantasia of monochrome tone and texture he offered tonight was as close to film as anything he’s ever shown before. It was enough to make you wonder when the catwalk will no longer be enough to contain his dreams.

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