If you’ve ever wondered where Thom Browne’s surreal fashion fantasias come from, there’s never been much point in asking him. He’s a veritable sphinx when it comes to talking about anything as fundamental as inspiration. So it was oddly reassuring to hear that the starting point for his new collection really was as basic as this: champion racer Lindsey Vonn jumping out a helicopter and skiing in a tuxedo. Um… did I say basic? I’ve been spending too much time indoors.
Once he had the image, Browne said it was all about creating the story to go with it. He’s used to taking things to extremes anyway, so here, his love of extreme tailoring hooked up with his love of extreme sports, with everything pushed to a fantastic, almost unrealistic limit. “Me just plunking the clothes down on a slope and Lindsey skiing past wouldn’t have made any sense, but having her falling into a dream with these angels guiding her home created a nice, charming, old world story,” said Browne. Filmed, I should add, on the slopes of Deer Park, Utah, with the entire cast and crew on skis the whole time.
Yes, “The Angelic and Fantastical Dream that Led Me Home…” is a sumptuous black and white film, which looks so good it could have been lensed in the Golden Age of Hollywood’s monochrome heyday. Without the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, Browne would never have been forced to make an alternative to the physical shows he loves so much. “One thing I feel with this film, maybe more than any of my shows,” he enthused, “is that from start to finish it was one of my most fully realized stories.” That was one silver lining to his Covid cloud.
Another was the nature of the collection itself. “A celebration of eveningwear” Browne called it. “I wanted it to feel like a beautiful, fantastic escape.” The film referenced “The Wizard of Oz:” Vonn falls asleep, clicks the heels of her gold shoes and is transported into a dream realm where she is guided down a white snow ski run rather than a yellow brick road by figures wearing Browne’s suitably fantastical hybrids of formalwear and sportswear. He mixed technical outerwear fabrics with luxurious black-tie fabrics, made a massive ballgown out of downfilled gold lame, turned a down-filled scarf into an extravagant stole. “The down filling is an amazing way to create shapes,” said Browne, “and it drapes really interestingly.” One of the simplest, but most stunning, looks paired a huge cable knit sweater with a skirt in plissé-ed satin-faced organza. The pleating apparently duplicated the patterns Vonn’s skis made in the snow. Later, there was a dress skirt whose patterning was based on the preliminary rounds of the skating competition in the Winter Olympics. To call Browne obsessed barely scratches the surface of his attention to detail.
The Winter Olympics were a subtext here, a sequel to Browne’s digital presentation for spring, which was filmed in the Los Angeles Coliseum. The names of host cities were embroidered on the souvenir patches that dotted a handful of pieces. In LA, the designer used CGI to imply the crowd that Covid denied him. For this film, he animated simple stick figures to see Vonn off to dreamland and welcome her home. It was a brilliant touch, even a little macabre. I could swear there’s a mania where you see other human beings as stick figures. The stick figures (he called them Mr and Mrs Thom) were also used as an artisanal embroidery motif, a humble little folksy touch in amidst the grander technical achievements.