Thom Browne loves the old red, white, and blue in his own deeply twisted way. The designer closed his show with The Star-Spangled Banner, but it was Jimi Hendrix's cliché-bombing live version that he opted for. That seemed only appropriate, after a presentation that exploded the masculine certitudes of patrician Americana. Browne's shows have transcended mere menswear manifesto to become pieces of surreal performance artat least, that's one way to interpret a finale composed of a "bride" demurely toting his train of tricolored rosettes down the catwalk with a retinue of lifeguard "bridesmaids" in attendance. Such flourishesthere was also a sixties surfer-dude thing going on, though more as styling cue than thematic undercurrentensured the presentation was reminiscent of some of Rei Kawakubo's more provocative propositions in the past. Just like Kawakubo, Browne has yet to encounter a rule he didn't fancy breaking. Hence, proportions so skewed they were positively bizarre. The key word was "short." Suit jackets had sleeves that ended mid-bicep, and shorts were essentially hot pants.
It's Browne's peculiar achievement that such indulgences don't compromise the "maleness" of his men. Even when they were wrapped Lana Tunerlike in big fluffy towels, they were still butchweird, but butch. That's why his sensibility has infiltrated the menswear mainstream. As far as Trojan horses go, it was easy to imagine this collection's overload on plaid tickling a few fancies. Like a plaid suit covered by a coat in a lacquered version of the same pattern, or a suit, shirt, and tie all matching. Men who have adjusted to the Browne crop will find it in a more generous, fuller-legged, wider-cuffed version for spring.
But that's commerce. It's inevitably more intriguing to speculate on the implications of shirtsleeves extended and knotted straitjacket-style at the back, or suits bulked up to Sasquatch proportions with rosettes. Browne's men are undoubtedly men, but they're not moving as easily in the modern world.