Thom Browne’s Asylum
Why does fashion week still exist? That’s an easy one.
A question that keeps coming up this season is one that’s been coming up ever since the first runway live-stream. If everyone can watch everything occurring at Fashion Week thanks to the Internet, what’s the point of producing a show, and gathering people to watch it anyway?
The simple answer is: Thom Browne.
His show, which took place in a fourth floor Chelsea gallery yesterday was set to start at 5PM. What will typically happen is that a 5PM show will actually begin by 5:30. Because no show runs longer than, say, eight minutes, it will also essentially end by 5:30 and after the larger chunk of guests present have tweeted, instragrammed, vined and so forth, the next show will start, wherever it may be, and the previous one will be absolutely, positively over.
People often say that “time is of the essence” at Fashion Week. Yesterday, though, Browne proved that when you’re Thom Browne, there is no such thing as time.
After being led into his show venue, which contained several different blocks of rooms, separating the guests by white padded walls but maintaining one lonesome, flickering lightbulb and hanging mannequin in each division, most attendants were seated by 5:15PM.
By 5:30 – with no models were in sight – the flickering lights and eery, non-lyrical music prompted that guests take to Twitter. Cathy Horyn wrote, “Kinda Manchurchian Candidate at Thom Browne. Tinkly chimes, a lone light bulb, a dummy hanging from ceiling, an audience going mad from wait.” While Laura Brown joked, “I think I just celebrated another birthday waiting for Thom Browne.” And an astute observation from Vogue’s Katherine Bernard made sense of the exhausting wait. “Late start on @ThomBrowneNY mental institution show–with flickering lights and eerie music box chiming…one editor says: This is insane!”
So that was the point, right? To make us feel insane? We waited another twenty minutes until an army of well heeled, doily sock wearing nurses emerged from behind a set of doors in white architectural dresses and two pieces. Their faces were cloaked by small, circular rimmed, reflective sunglasses and their hair, which was teased out was contained by nets. Each nurse resumed a position at the corner of her room, just next to a small white station boasting a pill jar and set of medicine cups. Slowly, the nurses began removing pills from the jar, putting them in their cups, and distributing the “medicine” to members of the audience.
So we are the crazy ones. Fascinating.
Before I could season that thought, though, the next army of what Browne referred to in Vogue as “Elizabethan clowns” began slowly walking through the room. Further teased hair, red hair nets instead of white, more latex than I have ever seen at a runway show and pale faces cloaked by red lipstick that, like Thom Browne, did not abide by a stay-between-the-lines ethos corrected my assumption. These were the patients, and they’d arrived.
The slightly creepy traipse of his models who were dressed similarly if not more grandiosely and perhaps intricately in mostly mid length skirts and dresses weren’t just showing. They were performing.
Paying closer attention to the extensive, 39-look spectacle which included visibly hand-sewn bead work, painting and shredding, it seemed obvious that Thom Browne may be one of the only American designers who not just understands couture, but can do it – and for a ready-to-wear show.
Gifted designers have power. They dictate not only the way we’ll dress, but the way we’ll want to dress. Many have mastered the art of contorting the female shape while others have displayed their urgency to edit and enhance the setting in menswear. Browne, however, has challenged both formats, governing precisely the way a man and woman should want to dress (for the latter, it’s in white gowns that may slightly resemble the human large intestine). The thing of it is, though, you may not realize that by simply sample sizing images from a show, or that which makes it to a sales floor. With Thom Browne, the clothes are about the attitude and the atmosphere, and the attitude and the atmosphere are about the event. Obviously, there’s no event if there’s no fashion week.