February 12, 2012 New York
No one could ever say Thom Browne is incapable of setting a scene. In the past, once he'd done that, he proved himself perfectly capable of sailing on into extremes scarcely logical. The boldness-bordering-on-lunacy of such an approach has exposed him to ridicule time and again. Admittedly, today's spectacle of a roomful of coffins was scarcely encouraging. But wonders never cease in the merry-go-round world of fashion. Browne's scenario called for his victims to be reanimated by their love of fashion. They clambered out of their coffins and stood sentinel-like while models meandered around them. So far, so macabre. But the notion of rebirth actually worked in a deeply metaphorical way, because what Browne showed was far and away his most convincing women's collection to date.
In fact, it touched on emotions his often contrived work has never plumbed. It may be as simple as this: These gilded, ethereal clothes were felt, not thought.
For one thing, there were none of the gratuitous volumes that Browne is so attached to. Elegant elongation ruled, with the emphasis on a narrow waist. Exaggerated peplums and bustles heightened that emphasis. Although the designer insists he is absolutely influence-proof, there were inescapable echoes of haute couture's golden age in such silhouettes. Same with a pleated cocoon, or sack-backed dresses. Then there were architectural constructs, with swoops of fabric that suggested the more outré reaches of classic couture. A mink bolero, sparkly tweeds, and fur-trimmed camel were ingredients in a headily luxe stew.
The one element that most obviously harked back to Browne's past indulgences was the body modification. The designer exaggerated any point where the body naturally protuded—shoulder, elbow, knee, breast. It was that kind of flourish that made Rei Kawakubo a point of reference. But the soundtrack, drawn from Tim Burton movies, was maybe more relevant. The arena in which Thom Browne operates isn't fashion, it's the same rich, private world of fantasy that Burton explores on-screen. The world needn't be what it is, the designer says. And here's the proof.