THOM BROWNE SPRING 2021 READY-TO-WEAR

The venue was chosen both for its Art Deco architecture and its hosting of the 1932 Olympics.

By Balthzar Malevolent

THOM BROWNE SPRING 2021 READY-TO-WEAR

Thom Browne’s “first and only” family trip growing up was to the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. He would have been 11 years old at the time, but he remembers Caitlyn Jenner winning the gold medal in the decathlon and Nadia Comaneci scoring the first perfect 10 in gymnastics. It doesn’t take a lot of mental gymnastics to understand the imprint that these moments of athletic perfection must have left on Browne. Yes, there are the many references to sports in his clothing, but there is also the fact that fastening oneself into his suits requires the mental focus—and often the attenuated calf muscles—of an athlete. 

For spring 2021 Browne has gone sporting at the 2132 Olympics, an event he imagines happening 239,000 miles from Earth on the moon. In a wry video he wrote that accompanies the collection, comedian Jordan Firstman and model Grace Mahary banter like sports commentators as models and flag bearers descend the stadium steps of the Los Angeles Coliseum. (The video is as wacky as any live Browne performance: transfixing, imaginative, maybe a little long.) The venue was chosen both for its Art Deco architecture and its hosting of the 1932 Olympics. The silhouettes of the ’20s and ’30s inform the clothing, from the drop-waist dresses to the slim skirts, some pleated, others as straight as your back must be to pull them off.

The entire collection is rendered in shades of white: ivory, eggshell, the palest yellow, the faintest gray. Browne chose the color as a symbol of hopefulness. Here it’s hard to divorce his creativity from that of his partner, Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Andrew Bolton. (They have, after all, spent about four to five months working from home together with their dog, Hector, who receives his own tribute as a handbag and as a spaceship in the film.) The Met’s Costume Institute exhibition “About Time: Fashion and Duration,” opening on October 29 because of COVID-19 delays, features only black clothes save its closing look: a white Viktor & Rolf upcycled couture dress, a gesture of stepping into a new, hopeful future.

Working exclusively with white materials also allowed Browne to prove his mettle at the Craftsmanship Olympics. The techniques on display here are as meticulous as ever: seersuckers made of cashmere, embroidery so thick it’s almost quilting, cable knits, intarsia suits, and trompe l’oeil dresses—everything emphasizing texture and surface tension. Some of the motifs that run throughout include a blank crest—maybe in the future we’ll have ditched the messy heritages of our past—and his own paintings, their graphic shapes transposed onto clothing for the first time in his career.

Aside from the long Deco silhouettes, Browne also continued to explore the repositioning of garments on the body: skirts as tops, jackets as skirts, etc. With so much graphic information packed into each ensemble and the clothes themselves so strangely collaged, it’s easy to forget the models underneath, some of whom are actual Olympians—and the fact that this is Browne’s second-ever coed collection. Not that the idea of gender really matters much in the Browne universe; his clothes are made for whomever is brave enough to wear them.

That seems to be the most salient message of this collection. Rather than try to change in order to blend in with the new normal, Browne has instead cemented his status as fashion’s kookiest and most uncompromising couturier. What about wearability? When asked how Browne himself dressed during New York’s lockdown, he laughed and leaned back in his chair to reveal his outfit: cashmere cardigan, gray wool vest, shirt, tie, shorts. “I’m either wearing this—or nothing!” His devotion to such a specific and steadfast way of life might seem an Olympian task for most of us, but thankfully Browne cuts his seriousness with the playfulness of an artist.

Thom Browne Spring 2021 RTW.
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