Thom Browne is another American designer who presented in Paris last weekend. While you always expect full throttle escapism from Browne, this season he resorted to something much more pure and toned down. Thom Browne’s “first and only” family trip growing up was to the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. He would have been 11 years old at the time, but he remembers Caitlyn Jenner winning the gold medal in the decathlon and Nadia Comaneci scoring the first perfect 10 in gymnastics. Yes, there are the many references to sports in his clothing, but there is also the fact that fastening oneself into his suits requires the mental focus of an athlete. For spring 2021 Browne has gone sporting at the 2132 Olympics, an event he imagines happening 239,000 miles from Earth on the moon. In a video he wrote that accompanies the collection, comedian Jordan Firstman and model Grace Mahary banter like sports commentators as models and flag bearers descend the stadium steps of the Los Angeles Coliseum. The venue was chosen both for its Art Deco architecture and its hosting of the 1932 Olympics. The silhouettes of the ’20s and ’30s inform the clothing, from the drop-waist dresses to the slim skirts, some pleated, others as straight as your back must be to pull them off. The entire collection is rendered in shades of white: ivory, eggshell, the palest yellow, the faintest gray. Browne chose the color as a symbol of hopefulness. Here it’s hard to divorce his creativity from that of his partner, Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Andrew Bolton. The Met’s Costume Institute exhibition “About Time: Fashion and Duration,” opening on October 29 because of COVID-19 delays, features only black clothes save its closing look (a white Viktor & Rolf upcycled couture dress, a gesture of stepping into a new, hopeful future). Working exclusively with white materials also allowed Browne to present his impeccable craftsmanship skills. The techniques on display here are as meticulous as ever: seersuckers made of cashmere, embroidery so thick it’s almost quilting, cable knits, intarsia suits, and trompe l’oeil dresses – everything emphasizing texture and surface tension. Aside from the long Deco silhouettes, Browne also continued to explore the repositioning of garments on the body: skirts as tops, jackets as skirts, etc. With so much graphic information packed into each ensemble and the clothes themselves so strangely collaged, it’s easy to forget the models underneath, some of whom are actual Olympians—and the fact that this is Browne’s second-ever coed collection. Not that the idea of gender really matters much in the Browne universe; his clothes are made for whomever is brave enough to wear them. That seems to be the strongest message of this collection. Rather than try to change in order to blend in with the new normal, Browne has instead cemented his status as fashion’s most uncompromising couturier. What about wearability? When asked how Browne himself dressed during New York’s lockdown, he laughed and leaned back in his chair to reveal his outfit: cashmere cardigan, gray wool vest, shirt, tie, shorts. “I’m either wearing this – or nothing!”
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.