What makes Thom Browne such an interesting designer is the fact that despite his extravagant runway gestures, he himself has a fascination with routine, banality, repetition, and spare spaces. His notorious shrunken suits actually reflect his obsession with the uniform-like bureaucratic tailoring of the Kennedy era. He even has the same black coffee and white toast breakfast regimen, generally consumed at the same restaurant, and a glass of champagne at night — never in flutes, although he collects them.
He started his fall show with a silent play of sorts that echoed that regimented, uncluttered lifestyle. The white set was divided into three equal parts. On the left was a chair and a table, on which lay a teapot and a cup. On the right was a desk with an old-school typewriter. In the center slept a model dressed in a white suit. He arose from his sleep and meticulously made his bed. He had his ‘breakfast’ in the adjoining room before moving to the third space, where he sat in front of the typewriter, apparently suffering from writer’s block. He then stood up, which brought down black curtains that darkened all the walls. He doffed his angelic suit in favor of a black equivalent and slipped back into the bed’s crisp linens, which, of course, were black.
The suspenseful, ominous strains that accompanied the actor’s automated moves gave way to Handel’s majestic yet subdued Sarabande. Models in dark, mostly black outfits solemnly stepped out, each stopping in front of the sleeping beauty the way they would at a wake, then continued their mournful procession as black snow dusted their dimly lit path. And just like that, the amusing daily routine turned into a deeper allegory about the cycle of life: sleeping, waking, eating, working, sleeping again. Birth, celebrated in baptismal white, and death, symbolized by darkness.
As for the clothes, they were truly beautiful, the kind of dignified attire a gentleman — and, at times, a lady — would don to a funeral. Coats and suits had the abbreviated shapes we’ve come to expect from Browne. Shorts were also a major story, and recurring skirts added a dose of gender-bending frisson. The accessories, too, were exquisite, starting with the headgear, which included a beekeeper hat, veiled coquettish confections, and a showstopping number topped with ostrich feathers. Leather bags were in the shapes of turtles or whales.
The show’s somber theme reflected a current trend in menswear. Two days ago, in his Givenchy show, Riccardo Tisci showed make-up and accessories that brought to mind Halloween fare. John Galliano, in his first Margiela outing, also displayed masks that conjured images of decay, while the British magazine Hero tited its latest, doom-themed issue Darkness Falls. Thom Browne’s remarkably produced performance, too, symbolized a clenched fist for the survival of formal wear in a fashion world invaded by sportswear, and singled out the designer as one of the few to make shows an experience.