Thom Browne was raised Catholic. He's also partial to the homogenization that uniforms impose on people. Combine those two under a womenswear umbrella and the nuns that ruled his new show made perfect sense. In the Edna Barnes Salomon Room of the New York Public Library, American fashion's master showman staged a performance of evening vespers to the tune of—what else?—"How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" One by one, wimpled models handed their habits to Brian and Travis Davenport, the devastatingly handsome male model twins who are just the sort of cloakroom attendants you'd hope to find in heaven. And what were these brides of Christ wearing under their ecclesiastical garb? A stitch-by-stitch transposition of Browne's menswear vocabulary: checks, extreme proportions, difficult layering, and an absolute upending of red-white-and-blue tradition.
Glaring down from the walls of the hallowed hall where Browne showed were a few centuries of Astor men, and their late-Victorian/early-Edwardian grandee style was reflected in the strictly tailored gray flannel and camel, the caped and hobbled shapes. Which meant there was no sex in Browne's look. But there was subversion. The baseball jacket that stretched into a dress with an extreme hourglass shape, for instance. Or the lush astrakhan jacket that expanded into a vinyl peplum. The overt theatricality of Browne's layering was also a challenge. Baby, it may be cold outside, but the capelet over cape over cable-knit skirt was a theatrical layer too far. Still, as with Browne's menswear, you suspect that elements of the whole—the patent clutches, for a start—will be extracted over time for commercial effect.
Speaking of theater, Browne was fearless in his manipulation of outlandish silhouette: The egg and the cage were reminiscent of an earlier fashion provocateur, Jean Paul Gaultier. Equally, they could be Gaga today, and it is probably in that context that Browne's work should be judged. The sui generis lexicon he has established for himself is just as critic-proof as hers.