Last month Thom Browne showed his men’s collection in a grand old ballroom at the Westin Hotel in Paris, in which a turn-of-the-century dinner party was in progress, complete with tabletop taxidermy, piles of steaming food, and models who actually ate. He presented his women’s collection tonight in New York, also in a grand room, this time at the New York Public Library, and this time food was not on the menu.
As the audience filed in, we were greeted by two kneeling altar boys in signature shrunken gray Thom Browne suits, bowing their heads in prayer as Latin choral music reverberated around the room. When all were present, they moved around the altar and stood facing the crowd. In walked 40 nuns in habits and white veils covering their faces. If it weren’t for the eyes, which were framed by ludicrously long false lashes, they would have looked exactly like the doomed women in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel A Handmaid’s Tale. Or maybe Sally Field in The Flying Nun.
One by one, each model walked up to the altar boys, stood as they undressed her, then circled the room. Beneath the robes, Browne’s aesthetic came to light, starting with his classic cropped suits in gingham checks and plaids, worn with striped shirts and college ties. The sense of order continued with capes featuring zip-open armholes, only accessible from the outside, and fur cummerbunds that pinned the girls’ arms to their bodies. But Browne also showed his talent for shape and proportion, in sculpted tops with curved necks and lobster sleeves, and in tulip skirts—the perfect hourglass figure.
Asked if he had intended to suggest a sinister world where women should be subordinate, Browne shook his head and said, “I grew up Catholic and it was a beautiful visual image. There was a bit of playing with convention, but I was mainly just trying to capture that beautiful image.” Hallelujah.