At his womenswear show today, the customary weirdness of Thom Browne's presentations took on a macabre note, like a brittle murder-mystery weekend in a country house sealed off from the real world, where all manner of naughtiness was free to let fly. Even the soundtrack encouraged it. "Let's Misbehave," peeped a Betty Boop soundalike. Browne claimed inspiration from Paris in the twenties, when he imagined a first taste of social liberation leading to all-female salons. "Girlfriends getting together," he suggested innocently, in a doomed attempt to diffuse the obvious sapphic subtext. Too late. When "I Hate Men," from Kiss Me, Kate, sailed into the ether, it set off a mini-tsunami of knowing smirks.
Browne insisted his vision was shaped by old movies, twisted by surreality. So the ambisextrous martinet who acted as the hostess for his all-gal get-together was blessed/cursed with a linebacker silhouette. Exaggeration for effect was the keynote. It wasn't just the shoulders that were bigger. Lengths were longer, volumes more voluminous, showpieces showier, fringes fringier. Some of them were so patently ridonkulous, they brought to mind the climber's response when asked why he scaled Everest: "Because it was there." Why did Browne suspend a pair of boxer shorts at floor level from a short skirt, or bless another model with sleeves that fell to the ground, where they ended in red lobster-claw oven mitts, rendering the appendages entirely useless? Because he could.
The designer claimed the guiding principle in his womenswear was a
transmogrification of menswear dress codes. Whatever subversion that
implies was more than aired in this tableau vivant. But, because the show's the thing with Browne, his efforts to entertain and amuse always take precedence over the more conventional goals of a fashion show. Which meant that in today's grand design, the mermaid marooned at center stage or the floor-length necklace of little rubber duckies sported by one model meant as much as the most elaborately fringed, layered ensemble.
Still, here's the thing with Browne: Women who really dress, like Michelle Harper, fetching at today's show in a vintage Balenciaga hat, find plenty to ravish the eye. She was very taken with a
yellow and black plaid top matched to a striped skirt in the same colors,
both lavished with sequins. She also favored the pleated A-line smock over a matching skirt with scalloped hem. It had the plain purity of a priest's vestments. And a navy jacket that cinched over a skirt flaring to mid-calf would look great swinging past the public library on Fifth Avenue, where Browne staged his spectacle—perhaps in one of those parallel universes we experienced on the sci-fi TV series Fringe.