Thom Browne has wanted to do a military collection for a while. He waited patiently while the rest of fashion flirted with the idea. Camo everywhere. Then he came across the École Militaire in Paris, which looks more like the Palace of Versailles than a military academy. Eureka! Thom got in touch with his inner Private Browne.
That inner being resides in a place where it is clearly impossible for the rest of us to go. As much as his shows defy conventional analysis, Browne himself is an enigma. The show today was yet another of his polarizing exercises in showmanship. The best? The worst? Proselytizers for both points of view could be found. The story the collection told could be summed up by a gimlet eye as "Joan Crawford goes to West Point." So broad-shouldered, so full-skirted, so ready to serve her country.
There's the bitterest irony in such a twisted interpretation. It was ameliorated by the scale and consistency of Browne's vision. A toy soldier—lips painted, cheeks rouged, jumpsuit flag-wavingly red, white, 'n' blue—marched robotically down the arcades of the École Militaire, then stood guard in a mirrored box lined with toile de Jouy while his compadres walked past in clothes that were scarcely less Ruritanian.
Ruritanian? Maybe too benign a reference for clothes that were touched with the macabre. The ambiguity of Browne's figurines evoked the queeny drama of Helmut Berger's cross-dressing Nazi in Luchino Visconti's The Damned. But it could also be read as a comment on gays in the military. Or maybe a satire of militarism in general. Browne himself chose not to illuminate the subtext. "I love uniforms and this has been on my mind for a while," he said in his typically unassuming way.
There is always a commercial collection back in the showroom that boils the showpieces down to accessibility, but in this case, it was hard to see how a corset-laced vinyl coat with flaring skirts could possibly translate into the real world. Maybe the rouged generalissimo who walked the runway at show's end with a 20-foot train in a monochrome black-and-white stars and stripes pattern was a dream client. Dream? Or nightmare!