If the rising waters at Balenciaga left one with a sense of doom and gloom, along came Thom Browne’s ark to save the day with childlike reverie.
Here’s the setup: Showing men’s and women’s on the runway together for the first time, the designer put the sexes on equal footing — literally — in sensible, block heel Ghillie boots. It was a good move.
Gone were women in dizzying platform shoes having to be escorted off the runway after feeling faint. Gone, too, were the hobble skirts and bound arms that have on occasion, suggested a misogynistic blind spot. Instead, strolling the runway wonderland of snow, were matched his-and-her model sets, dressed identically to tailored perfection in skirts, dresses and suits.
But, since they all wore black veils over their faces (fastened with tiny hair pins, each painstakingly affixed with a signature Thom Browne red, white and blue ribbon), it was difficult to tell which was which, and that was the point. Thanks to Janelle Monáe (sitting front row), Billy Porter, Laverne Cox and many more trailblazers, it doesn’t really matter anymore.
Playing to the storyline, each model carried a different animal-shaped leather handbag. There were 33 in total in Browne’s zootopia — giraffes, chickens, rabbits, ducks, rhinos, lambs and more, and it was the most fun to try to identify them all. (The whole ark was depicted on mixed tweed, check, windowpane and pinstripe bucolic-scene patchwork coats.)
“I thought I’d blur the lines between the man and the woman, and have them wear the exact same thing, in the same fabrics and proportions in tops and bottoms,” Browne said backstage. “We started two by two in Noah’s Ark, then went into mixed-up pairs, because that’s how life should be now, people should be able to be with whoever they want,” he added, explaining the show’s progression to a finale where the models held hands with a different partner.
The clothing was about playtime with black-and-white Harris tweed, which Browne used as a canvas for his superb techniques of deconstruction, trompe l’oeil, patchwork and proportion play.
His full, gender-blending repertoire was on display, from nouveau prep (gray babydoll dresses with striped organza in the pleats, sack jackets and coats with silk stripe linings and argyle knits) to nouveau dandy (trompe l’oeil coat dresses with “human,” as opposed to fox, stoles); all-business (gray flannel coats and ties worn with box pleat skirts); and LeBron baller (patchwork parka with fraying edges and matching shorts).
Elongated cardigan jackets and pleated skirts added a sense of movement to Browne’s sometimes rigid silhouettes, and halter tops and skirts reconstructed from deconstructed trousers, jackets and shirts a sense of experimentation. It felt like a real genesis.