NEW YORK, United States — Thom Browne’s show for Spring 2016 was a perfect paradox: one of his most commercially accessible collections, one of his most perverse presentations. He manifested his topsy-turvy world in a set where a child’s bicycle, a white picket fence, a hedge — icons of suburbia — were actually stuck to the ceiling. When the models appeared, they were dressed as Browne’s idea of innocence, their school-girlish braids sticking straight upwards in horns of human hair, as though they too were suspended upside down.
The show was its usual stately, ceremonial self, the girls proceeding at a glacial pace around the venue until they took their places at desks, set in the framework of a prairie schoolhouse in the centre of the set. Teacher was conspicuously absent, though — in a detail straight from the land of Oz — a pair of legs jutting out from under the building suggested it may have landed on him as it righted itself.
It wasn’t Oz, however, that Browne chose to evoke with his theme. The soundtrack was “Kill Bill’s” Japonaiserie, and Browne’s schoolgirls felt closer to the sword-wielding teen psycho in that movie than Anne of Green Gables. “The Asian inspiration was so strong in my last men’s collection that I wanted to carry it across to my womenswear,” he said, in the infuriatingly mild way he has of explaining away fabric effects so special they defy comprehension. uniforms have always appealed to Browne. He likes their power and confidence. “But girls like variety and choice,” he added. “A uniform is so foreign to them.” And hardly more foreign than when it’s worn by a Japanese schoolgirl.
The little jacket, the pleated skirt, the collar and tie, the coat, the cape: Browne didn’t miss a trick. He underscored his mind-fuckery with typically ingenious intarsias of Japanese iconography, a shrine picked out on a gingham backdrop, say, or a bamboo grove arranged across a linen jacket. Schoolgirl shoes sported the soles of traditional Japanese sandals. As for “variety and choice,” Browne offered four different lengths of skirt and jacket. That certainly boosted the accessibility factor, but this was already a collection that could be distilled into peculiarly appealing separates. One of those intricate intarsia jackets, for example, would stand-alone quite successfully. The pleated skirts over the elongated shirttails could spin punk as much as prissy.
Once the schoolgirls had taken their place at their desks, a creature emerged with a bride-like demeanour. Remember, Uma Thurman’s character in “Kill Bill” was The Bride, except this character was also wearing Daryl Hannah’s eye-patch from the movie. She was shimmering with sequins; her feet were cased in flowers. But across her bosom was a black cloud, a touch so eerie that you really have to wonder what Thom Browne ultimately makes of women. Today, his were sugary, pastel-coloured confections, but they were also strong, strange and scary. Even if he insisted he’d never heard of “Battle Royale” — a movie in which Japanese schoolgirls are stone cold killers — there was an undercurrent of it in today’s show. That's because Thom Browne seems to have an instinctive grasp of a world turned upside down.