One enduring memory from my first trip to Tokyo in the mid-80s was the little kids in Yoyogi Park, baby fashion plates in head-to-toe looks by designers like Matsuda, promenading with their parents in the same outfits writ large. That surreal vision crossed my mind while I was watching the film Cass Bird made for the virtual launch of Thom Browne’s childrenswear during Paris Fashion Week on Sunday.
He used his slot in the men’s fashion calendar to debut the video, which suggested this particular brand extension is a big deal for him. It certainly gave him an opportunity to flex the subversive muscle that has powered him through his career. Half a dozen kids done up in uniform-strict Browne (shorts for the boys, pleated skirts for the girls) wreaked havoc in one of the tight Kafka-esque office spaces that has cropped up in his presentations through the years. It came complete with manual typewriters — another Browne leitmotif — which defied a 21st century child’s comprehension.
“I loved playing with those little sophomoric moments we all grow up with, whether it’s an apple for the teacher or that one day when a kid threw up in class,” said Browne. Sure enough, the film climaxes with little Tommy vomiting extravagantly all over the floor. Even knowing it was a simulacrum of yogurt, milk and ground granola, the spectacle was still convincing enough to solicit a hint of dry heave from this viewer. But Browne was charmed. “It was a nice, refreshing change from all the collections I do for adults.”
It’s not the first time he’s dressed kids. He has made clothing for the children of clients in the past, but he felt it always looked like a straight miniaturised version, and he wanted this collection to look like it had been made specifically for kids, appropriately sized and proportioned, one difference being that there was not as much proportion play as there was in his adult clothing, because unformed bodies have less proportion to play with. Otherwise, there are no concessions to the pre-pubescent status of the wearer (6 to 12 is the target age range). You can tell it’s Thom Browne from half a mile away, with the same mix of sportswear, knits, sweats, downfilled outerwear, and always the same uniform tailored image as the main line.
A psychologist might find Browne’s Rosebud in the uniform he wore as a quiet, shy pupil at St Thomas More Catholic School in Pennsylvania, except that uniform featured green jacket, navy trousers, yellow shirt and plaid tie, and the designer’s signature suit, as modelled by himself, is rigorous monochrome.
He’s occasionally suggested that uniform dressing liberates the individual. You’re focusing on the person, not the clothes. And so it was when he talked about the kids in his film. “They’re all wearing the same thing but you can see they all have totally different personalities. That is the strongest message. I think it’s an interesting thing for kids to see. Today, they use fashion as an expression of their personality. This is the exact opposite. I have zero interest in pushing a fashion point of view. This is classic, well-made American sportswear.”
With a typical Browne twist. “I see it as more unisex than boys and girls,” the designer added. “Kids are so much more enlightened than we were growing up. I would hope you’d see little boys putting on the pleated skirts.” That could be a canny commercial move. If the child is truly father to the man, Thom Browne is already cornering his future clientele.