Thom Browne's toy story
One didn't needn't ponder long why Thom Browne chose to show his Fall 2022 collection—months after other designers called it a wrap on their cold-weather collections—on the last Friday in April upon glancing at the calendar.
The designer chose a strategic place to kick off the weekend leading up to the first Monday in May, on which the Met Gala takes place annually. Considering the theme of this year's event, 'In America: An Anthology of Fashion,' and the classic preppy tropes Mr. Browne reimagines so well, one wonders if he wasn't asked to show at that time by the fete's grand dame Anna Wintour.
To further the theory, in the fantasy-filled runway romp, the designer, via an announcer, beckoned those in the room to consider why they came to the Big Apple, America's largest and busiest city, and who they wanted to be there. In this way, the designer set up the show to examine different "types" but did so in the context of his wool flannel and menswear haberdashery bits and playful animal themes, focusing on the beloved teddy bear.
The stage at the Javits Center's vast pavilion at the farm space was set with rows of grey-suited teddy bears sitting on miniature chairs. This scene had audience members initially wondering if it represented Oz or Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall thanks to its English schoolboy undertones. The designer called the 500 bears "chairbears" (presumably a play on Care Bears) in a release. The larger-than-life chair at the front was to host the grand poobah teddy bear, who served as master of ceremony and wore teddy fur gloves and boots and a gigantic top hat with a toy bear face.
The way they waved at the crowd conjured visions of FAO Schwarz live toy soldiers that greeted guests, or a bear-themed Macy's Day Parade also came to mind. The real inspiration was the island of misfit toys scene from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer animated film.
The models who opened the show carried Thom Browne's bags elongated into a massive bag that required several models to carry it, each wearing Stephen Jones masterful top hat creations. Perhaps that alluded to how New Yorkers carry each other in times of dire need, say the Covid-19 pandemic.
The models who appeared in the first portion of the show imagined a unisex New Yorker with skirts for all. They were mixed and matched in Browne's woolen tweeds and checks, layered as pants under skirts, shirts, and jackets, and threw in a mélange of men's tie silks in various colors to add to the zany textile combos.
Even the massive platform lace-up shoes came in mixed pairs. Browne seemed to embrace a car-coat silhouette in lieu of the shrunken blazer he is famous for. As silhouettes shift to oversize, the designer may soon find himself at a philosophical design crossroads.
As exaggerated as the first group was, it was the second group where the designer let his design inhibition rip. A voice over the soundtracked introduced the "toys," which was where the fantastical looks came to life as the music went from melancholic to a retro festive vibe. A massive crinoline look opened, creating a triangle shape on the model about 10 feet in diameter.
Next, a lobster claw and tail look; after that, a ball-shaped sweater resembling a softball. Wait, was that a slinky-inspired look? The accessories drove the point home with amusing alphabet block shoes and bags, a Hector dog jack in the box, a toy truck bag, and even a shape-discovery maze on one bag handle. The non-conventional makeup looks in different color shapes, recall the plastic sticker game Colorforms. The toys allowed Brown to explore the notion of exaggeration, whether it was bulbous shapes on a dress, gigantic cable knits, whipstitches, or shirt sleeves that practically swept the floor.
For the finale, as typical in a Thom Browne show, models came out in pairs, stopped along the runway, then turned and faced each other as the announcer invited them to find their true selves. It was a poignant yet slightly icky moment, maybe meant to help some relive those awkward moments of self-discovery.
Or to imagine New Yorkers, under normal circumstances turning to a stranger and start chatting them up. Just then, the show's master of ceremonies started to lip-sync Kelly Clarkson's A Moment Like This, having a drag moment that teetered on self-indulgent as he escorted the smiling designer to take a well-deserved bow.
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