It began with a bolt of vintage gold lamé from the 1920s. Where that fabric might have suggested showbiz to some, to good Catholic boy Thom Browne it instantly evoked the ecclesiastical. Leaving aside for one moment the fact that the competition for ownership of souls places Hollywood and the Vatican in a neck-and-neck race, Browne's irresistible attraction to showmanship inevitably produced a show that turned blind faith into a Fellini-esque spectacle, complete with a soundtrack from the maestro's own Roma. It was pitched to a repetitive point where the audience, seated in pews and swamped in incense, would have confessed to anything to make the music stop.
Blessed or damned? You're never sure with Thom Browne. Every model's fingertips were dipped in black. It's freaky flourishes like this that can make his shows feel like an entire season of American Horror Story rolled into fifteen fashion minutes. But maybe such thoughts were encouraged here by the way that an exaggerated Mae West silhouette was infused with a fetishized religiosity. The hyper-rounded shapes said Diamond Lil, the monochrome solemnity of the clothes spoke of piety. "Sister Mary Gabriel says turn away from sin," Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark intoned at the finale. Maybe that was the journey we had been watching on the catwalk, as a shapely strumpet made her way into the gilded eye of God.
And yet, utter excess was woven into the very fiber of the collection. Irresistible as it was to interpret this as Browne's sly comment on the extravagance of the church, it also fitted too well into his own obsession with layer after layer of detail to be so easily pinned down. The way, for example, that his signature gray flannel was hemmed in silver, or a tweed jacket was laminated with gold was a transmutation of the banal. Every fabric was opulently treated in some way, from dévoré to embossing to bugle beading. Exhausting but hypnotic. A similar result, in fact, to that which the church seeks from its faithful with its heady rituals. For Thom Browne, fashion is the new church.