This week in New York, I’ve been thinking about identities of designers and brands. Whose identities are most pronounced? Who has lost theirs? Who is severely in need in one as they bounce from one thing to the other without consistency? Sadly I feel there are a clutch of designers in New York, who answer in the affirmative to the latter two questions. One that most certainly doesn’t though is Thom Browne.
I’ve spoken about Browne’s singularity as a designer before and that even though his shows have an established ‘schtick’ about them with its elaborate set, slow-paced models and deliberated theatricality, it’s one that at the very least sticks to its guns, whether you love or hate it. The identity is set and the way it evolves is through its theme – this time, it was an upper crust park in the 1930s on a foggy day, where the characters strolling about might have popped out of Evelyn Waugh or W. Somerset Maugham novel. Their Steven Jones hats were men’s ties sculpted over the heads with suggestive curves, signalling the interplay between masculine and feminine that would see formal jackets trailing in the train of a gown. Browne shows real experimentation here that is less about extreme silhouettes and costumed characters, but more about technical prowess. Where strips of fabric appear to be ripped and stitched together to form pleats. Or where one half of a jacket is hybridised with another.
If you readily associated the deconstructed with asymmetry, raw edges and haphazard layers, then think again as Browne’s method of deconstruction showed real precision and exacting standards. See a grey pencil skirt embroidered with little pooches with the shoulders of a jacket worked in as front pockets and the sleeves then tie up to form a front ruched detailing. Or a longer opera coat seamlessly coming together with a shorter blazer. Or a pinafore dress that appears to be constructed out of a lavish velvet sleeved coat. It’s basically a really really well-made version of how I used to wear cardigans as skirts or tie jackets around my chest in my bedroom because I thought I was being ‘avant garde’. Even in the simpler pieces, there are clever pattern cutting details that wouldn’t intimidate the average Thom Browne customer, who might normally buy into a well-proportioned shirt or a close-fitting blazer, as seen in a matching grey jacket and skirt made out of sewn together arm pattern pieces that resemble pages in a book. You unpicked all of that just by watching the show, without being distracted by the mise-en-scene. If I had gone into the showroom to further unravel Browne’s technical detailing, this post might have rambled on a bit. The point is, the focus is on the clothes. And as Alex Fury has pointed out on the Independent, that’s not been the case this week in New York. There are a slew of designers that I still haven’t had time to talk up from the week that have also made clothes their primary concern. But for now, Browne’s perfectly sewn seams shine through.