Thom Browne's first women's runway show may have taken place here on Valentine's Day, but the collection was no love letter to the female form, offering up dramatic pieces that played with volume: broadening at the hips like a set of parentheses, wrapping like a fur tourniquet tightly around the thorax, layering bell shapes to form an almost Christmas-tree silhouette, and closing with an outfit that looked like the cross between an egg-timer and a tea cozy.
The show itself was exactly what you might expect from a showman like Browne -- before the show, the cavernous, wood-paneled Edna Barnes Salomon Room upstairs at the New York Public Library contained only a pair of altar boys kneeling in prayer and a soundtrack of monastic chanting.
Then the models entered -- each clad in an identical black nun's habit topped with a winged, white
wimple (similar to the headgear sported by Sally Field in "The Flying Nun"). Then, to the tune "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" the models began to step forward one by one to be literally defrocked by the altar boys, revealing the outfit from the fall-winter 2011 collection underneath.
The first few looks to shed the habit looked like the standard-issue shrunken men's suits Browne is famous for, only with tailoring tweaked to fit the female form and pant legs cuffed so high the garments might technically qualify as clam diggers.
But then Browne's beauties quickly became studies in shape and volume. One gray wool coat sprouted a funnel-neck collar that reached the upper lip, arms that flared in semicircles from shoulder to elbow to mimic the arc of skirt ballooning from hip to thigh. Another gray wool mini-dress had a hem that grazed the thigh, a tall collar reaching mid-cheekbone, and was styled with a pair of gray cable-knit leggings.
Some outfits were nipped in at the waist to form a silhouette that "Mad Men's" Betty Draper would feel right at home in, others were designed with an empire waist. Many looks were layered -- skirts, capes, jackets and scarves.
It was this focus on layering -- and Browne's love of capes -- that resulted in the most unusual silhouette of the collection, a closing look that might kindly be called the Humpty Dumpty, which layered a stiff white felt ovoid cape trimmed in red-, white- and blue-striped grosgrain over a white cable-knit pencil skirt.
Avant-garde? Certainly. Wearable? Not so much. But like the three-legged trousers and feather-festooned suits that Browne has been known to send down his menswear runway, it's as much -- if not more -- about showcasing the vision and tailoring talent of the creative team as it is about wearability.
Besides, Browne knows that making an omelet requires breaking a few eggs.
And what we saw here during New York Fashion Week was merely his first crack at it.
Thom Browne women's collection fall-winter 2011 runway show gallery
-- Adam Tschorn in New York
Photos: Looks from Thom Browne's debut women's wear runway collection on Monday. Credit: Jonas Gustavsson and Peter Stigter / For The Times