Thom Browne sees American men as strangers in a strange land. Last season, he projected them into space. Today, he spirited them back to the eighteenth century, with a show that took founding father Thomas Jefferson's sojourn in Paris as its starting point. In the Salon Impériale of the Westin hotel, Browne staged a sit-down dinner for 42 painted, peruked fops (the wigs were actually an Aran knit snood), who picked at a dieter's plate of sweet corn and peas while huge turkeys steamed invitingly on the table in front of them. Every so often, the men would arise as one and promenade around the dinner table in a game of musical chairs in a motion slow enough to suggest they might be plagued by gout, a favorite affliction of the eighteenth century.
Browne's seriousness of purpose is indisputable. He claimed the show took a solid six months of planning. At the same time, when challenged about how much of his presentation was designed to bring a smile to his audience's face, he conceded that the full 20 minutes' running time had a tongue-in-cheek element. Just as well. There was such a stately lunacy to the whole affair that, coupled with Browne's idiosyncratic take on aristocratic Americana, we could have been watching a production of Marat/Sade staged by Ralph Lauren.
Browne loves this stuff, bending a world to his will, but he's smart enough to know the show is not entirely the thing. He indicated a riding influence in the collection, which yielded jackets with cutaways that buttoned to sleeves. He talked about a new high-buttoned shape. And he was insistent that you could winnow out a flotilla of wearable options from his theatrical parade. True, there was a navy blazer layered over a longer one in gray cord. There were plaid Bermudas and a red, white, and blue suede motocross jacket, and a navy shearling trench with huge buckles. There were also huge leg-of-mutton sleeves, and britches trimmed with pheasant feathers, a St. Trinian's schoolgirl uniform in gray mohair, and a dramatic coat whose Empire line and sweeping train brought together the wardrobe of Thomas Jefferson and his wife Martha.
In the world of fashion, The Option has become a treasured tool with which to seduce shoppers. The vast range of Thom Browne's offering carries the act of seduction to an entirely illogical extreme. For that alone, he should be declared a national treasure.