More art installation than fashion show backdrop, the set for Thom Browne's show today was a Disney woodland populated with dozens of cute critters. A bear posed on a rock, ducks and fish swam in a pinstripe river, rabbits and squirrels scurried, an eagle soared above. The kicker? Three months in the making, the entire tableau, flora and fauna included, was stitched from classic menswear fabrics.
The show itself was a performance in two acts: the hunted and the hunters. For the first, Stephen Jones created a stunning set of headgear to represent the animal kingdom—from a helmet with frog's eyes and a cap whose peak came to the hardened point of an eagle's beak, to a bear head holding a fish in its mouth, to a huge elephant mask. The clothes that went with them were as accessible as anything Browne has ever offered, deliberately so. He was so excited to be working with Jones he wanted to showcase the hats, so the tweed, herringbone, glen plaid, houndstooth, windowpane check, and gray flannel tailoring was designed to steal no thunder (though perhaps the raw seams were an acknowledgement of the wild animal within). This first section offered a shred of insight into how Browne posted a 61 percent increase in menswear sales last year. Somewhere there is a semi-real world in which you could imagine these clothes moving.
The second act, however, was a very different story. Welcome back to Thomlandia, a sur-real world where logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead. Browne's hunters moved like demented Pierrots, exposing just how encumbered they were by their capelets of intarsia-ed mink, their dense honeycomb brocades woven with neoprene and digital pixels, strewn with sequins and giant oak leaves. Physical bulk aside, there was a perverse flatness to these outfits, like Browne had borrowed a leaf from Rei Kawakubo's bible of two-dimensionality. They were so stiff that there was at least one instance—the huge plastic waders—where the model had to be lowered into his look. There was something so willfully bravura about such ridiculous excess that one was left fishing—as usual—for analogies outside the world of conventions as banal as usefulness, ease of movement, sex appeal…Didn't Nijinsky once do something so two-dimensional that he was practically stoned out of the theater?
Back to earth with a bump…the faces of Browne's boys were stenciled with oak leaves to blend in with their outfits. Blend? Yes, that was the point of it all. Browne's career has been built on a fascination with the classic, and here he was celebrating the primacy of camouflage in the male fashion lexicon. Or so he said. A more poignant subtext was the one suggested by the finale, where the "hunter" models stood in front of the "hunted" models, obscuring them. Then the "hunted" models moved up front. "The animals prevail," said Browne. Showman, optimist, and conservationist? See for yourself when Browne's entire Fall 2014 shebang goes on show at a gallery near you. Because that is the likeliest destination for this epic spectacle.