PARIS, France — In his previous incarnation, Thom Browne tried to make it as an actor in California. “It’s the most seductive place to do a lot of nothing,” he said after the West Coast fantasia he staged tonight. Meaning, the acting didn’t happen. But his career in fashion did.
“It’s the place where I became a designer,” he added. And that great big happy memory saturated his show. But this is Thom Browne we’re talking about, so the scenario was set with a shadow: a black palm tree set in a glittering black sandpit (Brian Wilson famously spent all his time in one as his mind disintegrated and the Californian dream soured).
The ominous theme from Jaws pulsed through the room as a suited dude in a shark’s head prowled the catwalk, looking for victims. “Not everyone in this room was alive when Jaws was released,” Browne pointed out. But he remembered. And that immediately established a personal tone for a presentation whose tightly choreographed scale would normally seem to be the very antithesis of intimate.
“I did a surfing show about eight years ago,” Browne mused. “This is how I’ve evolved.”i.e. massive technical accomplishment, peaking in the trompe l’oeil onesies that looked like complicated multi-faceted outfits but were actually a single unit. The grass-green mink jacket with the white twill shorts? One piece. The shark-embroidered tail coat with seersucker pants? Same thing. “I wanted to replicate a wetsuit,” said the designer.
The sheer sci-fi convenience of such a concept was almost laughable (you could imagine Woody Allen in Sleeper loving the look), but Browne had the models stripping onstage to show its efficacy. Aside from the onesies, there were also outfits that were held together by a single massive zip running down the spine, each individual piece immaculately worked — dyed, painted, embroidered, intarsia-ed — in Browne’s signature style. It was gobsmacking.
Going ga-ga for subtext, you might say that the shark and the circling seagulls (boys in feathered shorts suits) said something about the state of the world, greed, avarice and all that. That black palm tree and sand also. Dimming of an idealistic light? No way. “Black showed up the colours so much better,” Browne said. That’s the way he shoots down subtext. It was, after all, uplifting colour and fun and youth he wanted to emphasise. But all of that is a political statement in a world that is being ruined by old men. And even Browne had to concede, “The work is very serious.”