There were men in feather-embroidered bird suits and cat masks made of mink, and a goddess in a silver, sparkling bugle beaded gown and a headpiece of mirror embroidery. There were silk gazar caftans and dresses made of silk tulle. There were even patchwork doggy bags. But it was impossible to forget about the shoes.
Designer Thom Browne’s shoes were a perfect dose of delight. They tickled the fancy. They brought out a childish giggle. Perhaps they were a chore to walk in. The models were moving slowly and carefully, after all. But they highlighted the visual pleasure of fashion and the way in which it can be the equivalent of a grown-up toy — the silly snow globe that never fails to make you smile, the Happy Meal that sometimes is exactly what you want rather than what you need. A childhood reverie. Pleasure.
For Browne’s presentation of his spring 2017 collection, folks gathered in the basement of a Chelsea gallery that had been transformed into a natatorium. Browne had brought in hundreds of square tiles to create the illusion of an Olympic-size swimming pool. Where there is a pool, there are also bathing beauties. And soon a clutch of models in colourful, billowing silk caftans walked out chattering and laughing. They wore oversize bathing caps, kooky sunglasses and matte lipstick in cotton candy colours. They also carried pop-art flowered shopping bags that called to mind Lilly Pulitzer, Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg.
The silver-spangled water goddess walked among the bathing beauties. A man with a furry cat head and tail prowled around them. And then, in unison, the women removed their robes to reveal their colourful trompe l’oeil dresses, jackets and skirts. Faux collars played tricks on the eye. Everything was a wink and a nod and a chuckle.
In the past, Browne has taken his audience to funerals. He has mused about mourning. But this collection exuded joy of a particular kind. It focused on illusions and memories and the fizzy intoxication of champagne.
In one last big reveal, the models removed their exquisitely constructed dresses with a tug on a zipper. Underneath, they were wearing red, white and blue cashmere bathing costumes. Impractical. Old-fashioned. Sweet nostalgia.
Beyond its cheeky fun, there was also a wistfulness to Browne’s show. His version of the past — dazzling, diverse, storybook perfection — was rosier than reality. It was more playful. More of how we wished it had been. And ultimately, that’s what makes us smile.
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