Headless plaster bodies hanging from the ceiling; various limbs scattered about elsewhere. Raw, flickering light bulbs. Björk’s relentless shushing. Intensely corseted, rubberized models with smudged lipstick and red snoods not controlling their wet-finger-in-the-light-socket coiffeurs. What, pray tell, was this all about? “The whole idea of the [Elizabethan] clown and how there’s something very interesting and sinister about the clown,” Thom Browne offered in nonexplanatory explanation postshow.
The extravaganza was extremely interesting and, in its own weird, weird, weird way, often beautiful. It confounded, opening a trove of questions about who Thom Browne is as a designer (of women’s clothes, at least) and what Thom Browne is as a fashion brand. Here was a fantastical, dark tale spun via exquisitely conceived and crafted costumery, with elements that could be read as Elizabethan, or as various other long-ago-and-far-away genres, depending upon one’s own imaginative preferences. They definitely read as derivative of Alexander McQueen (and, less so, of John Galliano in the ankle-sock-stiletto touch and Rei Kawakubo in the fabric mastery) — which is fine. Like all other designers great and not-so, Browne must be allowed his references, but for goodness sake, they all got there first, invariably (when at their best) with powerful statements behind the glorious madness. Essential to appropriation is taking ownership via forward motion. Some of Browne’s shapes recalled McQueen’s Chess Game masterpiece. What was the backstory here?
More mundane: the question of commercial resonance. McQueen typically derived a thoughtful, alluring commercial collection from his runway art (though he too seldom got sufficient credit for doing so); his successor, Sarah Burton, does the same. Browne’s sinister clown ladies were all black, white, hyper-constructed and sexual. Does his current commercial lineup connect back to the structure, amazingly wrought fabrics, the eerie flamboyance? This one calls for a visit to the showroom.
Finally, what does this show say about Thom Browne the brand, and about the man’s ethos as a designer? How does the vision of women he portrayed on Monday relate to his renown geek-chic men’s wear m.o.? Must they relate, or is to think that so rooted in narrow-minded convention?
Through the endless nine days that are New York Fashion Week, we see a lot of perfectly nice, ordinary clothes. The occasional shattering of that template should be a welcomed event. Here — unless this reviewer missed the big picture, which is very possible — Browne’s ultimate message was less than the sum of his audacious craftsmanship.