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Thom Browne shows Paris the right stuff [video]

June 28, 2010 |  6:00 am


It wasn't easy to steal the thunder of the European designers this season: Dolce & Gabbana had Annie Lennox singing to the crowd at its 20th anniversary menswear show, Raf Simons staged a 15th anniversary show that revisited some of the themes in his collections over the last decade and a half, and Italian textile maker and clothing label Ermenegildo Zegna celebrated its centennial with an exhibition and gala shindig at Milan's Trienniale that traces the company's history.

But on Sunday, at the second to the last scheduled runway show on the final day -- and a posterior-numbing 47 minutes late -- American designer Thom Browne didn't just debut his eponymous menswear line here at Paris Fashion Week, he picked their pockets, cleaned their clocks, ate their collective lunches and ushered in the new era of the American designers' dominance.

The show was held in the Oscar Niemeyer-designed French Communist Party headquarters, a building that has hosted fashion shows by the likes of Prada and Dries van Noten, and no description can accurately do the scene justice.


If you can't watch all 16 minutes and 43 seconds of the video below -- though I think you'll want to -- I suggest watching at least a snippet to get a feel for it.

It involved the audience seated at the curved desks in the domed conference room of the building like fashion's version of the Model United Nations, each spot set with one of a hundred identical Mead notebooks, a hundred identical No. 2 pencils and a hundred pairs of tabletop U.S. and French flags sitting in a hundred tiny flag stands.

The models, in identical white Thom Browne spacesuits and gold reflective space helmets, marched through the room, then out to an anteroom where the audience could watch them shed their spacesuits by video and reveal the collection, before circling back through the room.

The collection itself was less Cape Canaveral and more Cape Cod, using Browne's now-familiar short-suit silhouette as a launchpad for a collection that included pinstripes, red/pink seersucker and various-sized checks in a range of reds, whites, blues and -- hold on to your Pantone paint chips, people -- pale yellow.

Embellishments included tiny allover bows, sequins that gave jackets a glistening raincoat look, and a preppy allover embroidery of white and red sharks and goldfish on navy blue blazers.

Backstage after the show, I asked Browne about his motivation for the marine motif. "The sharks and Rage_sharks goldfish? They're just sharks and goldfish," he said with a sheepish grin.

Of course, nothing's "just" anything. There is a food chain hierarchy, just as there was a space race. Balances of power can shift with the launch of a single satellite, and communism can crumble like a single toppled wall.

Speaking of which, Browne's use of the space to seat the audience like diplomatic delegates, and circulate the models past them, augmented by huge video screens flanking the dais at the front of the room, gave every last attendee what amounted to a front-row seat.

Yes, Browne used the infrastructure of communism to bring a true feeling of democracy to the traditional runway show format.

The eagle has landed, indeed.

-- Adam Tschorn

"Thom Browne Spring/Summer 2011 Menswear Paris Runway" from LAT Videos on Vimeo.


More All the Rage coverage of Paris Fashion Week

New York Fashion Week: Thom Browne thinks big

Thom Browne spring/summer 2011 menswear runway collection photo gallery

Photos: Top, spacesuited models at Thom Browne's spring/summer 2011 menswear show. Center, a look from the collection. Bottom, the allover shark and goldfish embroidery. Credit: Peter Stigter and Jonas Gustavsson / For The Times. Video: Adam Tschorn / Los Angeles Times.