A Thom Browne presentation during the middle of New York Fashion Week has always been like the equivalent of smelling salts - something to refresh and revive the senses and prevent me from drowning in what can seem like a sea of perfectly nice, perfectly wearable and bon chic, bon genre clothes. What NYFW is by and large, is "real" clothes - an phrase that is almost as odious as "real" women - by which I mean, clothes that will speak to most women and comes with descriptions like "chic", "relevant" and "subtle". All very well and good and there's certainly value to be had in the labels that show here, which do effectively end up on the well-heeled peeps on the streets.
That said, one show out of bazillion that is just bat shit cray, bonkers, off-the-chart - whatever phrase for crazy you want to use - is precisely what the doctor ordered for jolting you alive. This time round, Thom Browne chose to present his womenswear collection as a runway show as opposed to an in-situ presentation. Instead of glimpsing at the clothes from behind a velvet rope in a cavernous space in the New York Public Library, we got to sit up and close and personal with ensembles that came round salon show style.
I feel as though I might bore myself and you with the symbolic associations that you could read into Thom Browne's A/W 13-4 vision. Hospital beds dotted around the show set had male models in signature TB grey suits tied to the bedposts and blindfolded with a crown of thorns on their heads. Sacrilegious? Sexually provocative? Disturbed? Those are things that aren't really new to Browne, if you've been to his womenswear presentations. I don't even think they're meant to be intellectualised either as Browne time and time again, present us with an image and revels in the power of the visual effect.
The full extent of Browne's theatre for pleasure's sake unfolded as women masked in Elizabethan white powder make-up, 18th century cherry lips and Madame de Pompadour hair, slowly made their way around the runway, touching the helpless boys on the beds with their poisoned roses. You could go down any path of references here - Sleeping Beauty, Alice in Wonderland, Tim Burton, Orlando, Victorian, Edwardian, 1940s Hollywood, 1980s power dressing - and endless bombardment of imagery fronted by hyper crafted silhouettes that from my close line of sight, looked immaculate. Every sharp n' straight shoulder, every bit of delicate lace applique, every curve in a jacket or dress - like his previous collections, it was all done to perfection. Conscious or not, it was hard to get away from the Comme, McQueen and Galliano-isms but you could almost overlook them, in lieu of Browne's rigorous effort and obsessive fine-tuning. The language is as always, pure TB - the tricolour stripe, the tendency towards grey-based fabrics, the choice of houndstooths, Prince of Wales checks and polka dot patterns.
By now, I think we get the picture that these shows are of course not representative of the product that emerges from Thom Browne HQ into the rails of stores. The smart navy coat and dress for instance, that Michelle Obama chose to wear for the inauguration, has little to do with these show specific extravaganzas. It probably makes zero business sense to invest to heavily in this fleeting image but for the sole fact that I get my breathless and rejuvenating moment during the shows, I applaud Browne for going the whole nine yards. The whole ten yards even. Someone at the show said afterwards that she felt "nourished" having seen this collection. I do hope she's consuming calories in real form (you never know…) but I got what she meant in terms of being fed by fashion. I felt pretty full and satisfied afterwards.