Tag Archives: Thom Browne

Thom Browne, 2011

Speaking of camp, for his Fall/Winter 2011 presentation, Thom Browne laid it on thick, setting  his bizzaro American bourgeois fantasy and Charles Jamesian shapes against a backdrop of christian piety ala Maria of the Sound of Music, Gospel, and Aretha Franklin. You can deduce that maybe Browne doesn’t take himself too seriously, utilizing the format of a fashion show to entertain as well as display clothes — he has fun with them and intends for his audience to have fun as well. In what has become true Thom Browne style; a bricolage technique of mixing and merging a variety of loosely connected references, the effect is something as humorous as it is terrifying, as deceptive as it is alluring, and as subversive as it is conservative. There is nothing explicitly unsettling or bold in Browne’s clothes yet they are still so shockingly distinct and unprecedented. He is a master of hyperbole, whether it is in the theatrics of his show (perhaps the only real one left in town) or in his overzealous yet skillful use of trim and details (his unfettered placement of his tri-color tape to brand plackets, vents, tabs, loops, bags, and jewelry should be disastrous but actually look quite good), or in his choice of makeup (the model’s exaggerated eyelashes render them hysterical cartoon versions of a woman), Browne utilizes the expressive qualities of gesture and symbols, playing on their scale and contrast, with potent results. The camp and kitsch push towards a heightened intellectual awareness, if you can believe it (Elsa Schiaparelli did, Miuccia Prada does), shifting their meaning, re-appropriated in his language of country clubs, Sunday school, constipated conservative suiting, just as laughable feminine banality, and musical theater.  In his efforts to reconcile his own autobiographical narrative with the contemporary challenge to redefine and make relevant American dress,  Browne has become a sort of post-modern Ralph Lauren, and with his first full show for women he’s brought that charm to the other sex. Bravo.

Alternatives, 2012

The Men’s Dress Reform Party, London, 1937

One of the many factions advocating radical change in conventional Western dress in the early 20th century, the Men’s Dress Reform Party pursued a softer, easier look based on comfort and aesthetic principle. Soft collars, shorts,  breeches, and even sandals were prized for their sartorial freedom and their parallel political reflections.

Raincoat designed by Issey Miyake, modeled by Kabuki actor Kichiemon Nakamura

Miyake found no discrepancy between East and West, believing that the two could combine into an amalgam of a modern world. In his design of a raincoat the binary of traditional Japanese clothes making and modern technology only compliment each other.

Yohji Yamamoto, circa 1984

Yamamoto utilized his native dress  with no less fervor bringing essentially Japanese shapes and forms to fashionable attention, facing head-on world dominating Western dress. While it would not reshape the modern wardrobe it would help put it into perspective and offer at least one divergent direction forward.

Giorgio Armani, 1990

Armani’s relaxed attitude, burgeoning into ubiquity in the late ’80s and early ’90s, took its inspiration from dress of the Middle East and Asia. A softer silhouette, still in cahoots with the oversized masculinity of its time, was sensual and seductive.

Raf Simons, 2005

Simons’s fall 2005 collection was an anathema to men’s fashion of its time. Sending out street casted boys in oversized silhouettes, owing as much to 1980’s Yamamoto as it does  the decades’ science fiction narratives ala Blade Runner and Brazil, the show struck a note that would vibrate much longer than a single season.

The spring 2012 men’s wear collections from Yohji Yamamoto, Jil Sander, Dries Van Noten, Christophe Lemaire, Issey Miyake, Damir Doma, Thom Browne, and Lanvin.

The Spring 2012 men’s wear collections in Milan and Paris are not so easily defined through rock‘n’roll, iconic heritage, or some kind of vague sartorialism – the usual language that gets bandied around from season to season to describe men’s fashion. The collections this time had a lot more to them. Trying to clearly express what it is, what these clothes really are, is much trickier, muddled in their ambiguity and contradictions; at once soft and strict, synthetic and natural, ancient and modern. There are no easy references to rely on but there is a means forward.

Thom Browne’s Couture

Charles James’s magnificent millinery

Sketch for a coat by Charles James, 1947

Sketch for a coat by Charles James, 1949

James presents a crinoline, 1952

A peplumed suit for Harper’s Bazaar

Some say it was Charles James who influenced Christian Dior’s 1947 “New Look”, James’s architectural approach looked back to the days of corsets, bustles, crinolines, and panniers, when women were literally squeezed into and burdened by a socially demanded femininity—the garment and its underpinnings defining the wearer—a continuing theme of the male couturier’s ego. Dior would follow this idea in philosophy if not in style as he set about reshaping post-war fashion in an ultra-conservative world. James would have a different legacy, dressing the richest and most esteemed women of his era, the grandest couturier of them all, lost in his dreams.

For James, making clothes was an art form, he ran his business as such, and the practical concerns of wearing clothes seemed to escape him even as tolerance for structured, body oppressing clothes faded away into the ‘60s. In his whole career James reportedly made only 200 designs, spending months and thousands of dollars to get a single sleeve just the way he wanted. He was known to be callous and impulsive, refusing to deliver a client’s gown just hours before an event if it wasn’t perfect or if he found the client undeserving. When he did try his hand at ready-to-wear he turned out to be too difficult to work with and so he was never able to build the kind of business that so many of his peers, including Dior, were able to prosper with. In a way, his lack of financial success embittered him, throughout his career he threw accusations of other designers stealing his ideas left and right, usually followed with a lawsuit, some of them not without cause. But James was never able to accept that aspect of fashion or the fact that his clothes were of a different time, and it forced him to shun so many people who might have wanted to help. He was a true genius, a mad genius, all alone in his own world.

Thom Browne’s Fall/Winter 2011 collection

For Thom Browne, a designer who has built his reputation in menswear by subverting a nostalgic longing for midcentury masculinity, appropriating American kitsch as a tool for branding, and for designing into his clothes his own severe and restrictive code of dress; Charles James, with his structure and layers of feminist/misogynist discourse, would be a natural point of departure for his women’s collection. The built up Arc sleeves, the barrel skirts and crinolines, and the peplumed jackets spoke the language of Charles James with a high level of fluency, accented of course by Browne’s kitschy surrealism.

It’s hard to imagine any literal reference to James’s work making sense as a modern fashion proposition instead of spectacular costume — as inspiring as his clothes still are. But maybe this is the inner mystery Thom Browne’s work. For his men’s collection shown in Paris he looked to America’s founding fathers, and for women he now looks to American couture. It’s as if Browne is foraging through the country’s sartorial history and adding its most savory moments into his own imagery and lexicon. That it is anachronistic and outlandish only heightens its appeal. A purist might consider any resemblance to Charles James in Browne’s collection purely surface, but one has to admire Browne for recognizing that America indeed has a couturier worth referencing– for rewawakening James and his dreams of grandeur in a bygone era and bringing them into a world of his own.