As soon as Thom Browne’s invitation arrived, revealing the show’s venue, the legendary Maxim’s restaurant, you knew the American designer was up to some elaborate nocturnal feast. You bet.
Guests sat around small flower-festooned tables and swilled champagne while a pianist serenaded them with elevator versions of such classics as Serge Gainsbourg’s Comic Strip. Then the show started with Joel Grey’s whimsical opening number in Cabaret, before the soundtrack moved to other camp anthems like Hey Big Spender, ending with Edith Piaf’s triumphant Je Ne Regrette Rien.
Clearly, the collection aimed at transporting the audience to the decadent world of 1930s Berlin. With their slick, center-parted hair and smoky eyeshadow, the models solemnly walked through the room wearing fringe of all kinds, as sleeves on trench coats and jackets, flapper dresses morphed into men’s tailoring, lampshade hats, and as an all-over motif on a beautiful black tuxedo. Pea coats were reincarnated as capes and elongated sleeveless jackets sported belt loops at the hem. They looked right, even if Browne’s pairing of taut jackets and cropped, high-waisted and wide-legged pants sometimes tipped on the wrong side of goofy, and his mixes of stripes at times seemed heavy. Accessories included ankle-length pearl necklaces, round sunglasses, and a teeny–weeny bowler hat with a white veil—perfect for New York’s first gay newlyweds.
Browne is right to try to push the envelope of formal menswear, but sometimes his over-staged, passéist spectacles hide his light under a bushel. The show had some contemporary gems, like a perfectly cut wide-shouldered trench coat, some teddy jackets, and the funny zippered socks. But they were a little lost amid all the cabaret references.