Thom Browne's explanations for his warped spectacles are always so even-toned and reasonable that they can make an interrogator feel like he's the one who has plunged down the rabbit hole into a topsy-turvy world where logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead (as the Jefferson Airplane's Grace Slick once memorably described her own experience in Wonderland). Tonight, for instance, Browne described a scenario where Punks face off against Jocks. It was almost high school in its commonplaceness. But what did he do with the inspiration? OK, here goes: Road Warrior, Rocky Horror, Blade Runner, The Longest Yard, Despicable Me, The Incredibles. Oh, and a jacket and skirt that, had they been paired with pearls, would have dragged The Iron Lady onto the men's catwalks of Paris.
Browne has always maintained he loves to entertain, to bring a smile to the face of his audience. True, there was merriment to be extracted from the mink merkins that poked cheekily out of the Punks' low-slung pants, but tonight's quarterbacks in cashmere were hardly figures of fun. With their heads mounted on huge shoulders, they looked like trophies. Or, with their grotesquely exaggerated musculature, like Doctor Frankenstein's latest creations. The doctor's output is popularly cast in a sinister light, and there was something of that in Browne's work, too. As with Walter Van Beirendonck's show yesterday, the cartoon colors and proportions came across as the candy coating on a profoundly transgressive vision. And the shadowed oeuvre of Robert Mapplethorpe made its presence felt again in references to bondage (the spiked leather mask, for instance) and a final frozen tableau of dominance and submission that recalled one of the photographer's most famous images.
As Browne saw it, his seriousness of purpose came through in his proportion play. The Punks stood for a tailoring much skinnier than anything he's ever attempted before. The Jocks were obviously steroid time bombs waiting to explode, but deflate that silhouette and there were a lot of the sort of patrician, Waspy pieces that Browne toys with, like an orca with a seal. There was also a suit that duplicated a Christmas snowflake pattern in red beading on white wool. It looked so innocent in context that you fell on it with a grateful sigh.