Just when you thought there was no longer any way to spin the ludicrous extravagance of a Thom Browne show, the man turned the game upside down with a collection whose paradoxical marriage of restraint and excess produced a genuine, Stone Gon’ fashion moment. The restraint was in the silhouettes: a trouser suit, a jacket and flaring skirt, a coat—all straightforward, untroubled by Browne’s yen to de- and reconstruct. The excess was in the fabrics: gorgeous, multidimensional assaults on reason. But, because they were contained within a comprehensible, familiar frame, they entranced rather than perplexed. It was the smartest move Browne has ever made—it spotlighted his skill, rather than his willfulness.
Nevertheless, it is that willfulness that shapes Browne’s personality as a designer. His audience today encountered a verdantly scented, box-hedged lawn set with tableaux vivants, each a surreal summation of summer pursuits—sunbathing, sailing, shuttlecock, butterfly collecting—with models uncomfortably frozen in poses, which seemed like a perfect paradigm for Browne’s uptight aesthetic. A bowler-hatted gardener in a seersucker shorts suit and fishnet stockings mowed the lawn. So far, so Browne. But then the voice of Diane Keaton began to intone the tale of six obsessive sisters on the soundtrack while models walked in illustration, and a peculiar magic took the audience in its sway.
It was an extraordinary performance. Browne’s coconspirator was master milliner Stephen Jones, who artfully created headgear to specifically complement each outfit (more than 30 hats in all, an entire summer of work for Jones and his atelier). The whole exercise stemmed from Browne’s request for a turban, which reminded Jones of something he’d once conjured up in the ’80s by twisting a T-shirt on the head of singer Kate Garner. The wit, the craft, of every hat was like the genius of the collection writ small.
And that genius was Browne’s. Obsession can alienate—there are enough instances of that in the designer’s past to offer as proof—but here it enthralled. One dress woven from fishing line (!) was trimmed in mink (Jones made a tiny jacket/hat to match). A jacket in dégradé colored oxford cloth was composed of 180 separate pieces. A coat throbbed with what looked like lenticular striping. A jigsaw of Mylar leather encased a perfectly acceptable cocktail dress. It was the stuff of a sci-fi fashion fairy tale. And yet it was also remarkably (for Browne at least) accessible. There were any number of pieces that could have stepped straight off the grassy catwalk and onto the steamy asphalt of the street outside. That felt like a breakthrough for Browne, which also meant that, at last, his extreme, eccentric showmanship yielded unambiguous dividends.