Moments before Thom Browne’s fall 2022 show in New York City began, models backstage meandered in towering toy block heels and slinky dog bags while others wore eclectic drop-waist suits with splices of diagonal stripes peeking through. The wild ones wore labeled signs marked “toy” while the more reserved looks donned the word “adult.” The dichotomy made sense, especially when Browne himself explained that the wonderful world he’d created represented the spaces in between imaginative, dreamlike states of opposition.
“I wanted it to be a good conversation between the two, because I do feel it is an amazing time, when people can be true individuals,” the designer said post-show. “I wanted that to be the story.”
Browne cited the Island of Misfit Toys from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as his overall inspiration—which could be seen in all the show’s elements: from the set right down to the more distinct details of the clothing. Five-hundred teddy bears wearing Thom Browne’s iconic suits sat in little chairs and lined the raised platform at the Pavilion inside Javits Center, where the show took place. A towering chair was home to a giddy model wearing a massive teddy bear-themed top hat and bear gloves, who played host of the show. Bags came in the form of jack-in-the-box dogs, teddy heads with legs, and supersized toy blocks. Hairstylist James Pecis created otherworldly balls of hair that sat high on the models’s heads and formed unique toy-like sculptures. “I always feel like New York is the Island of Toys and everybody comes here to find themselves or create themselves,” Browne said.
Thom Browne’s “toys.” All photographs courtesy of Thom Browne.
Most intriguing was the designer’s approach to celebrating and decoding New York—and the overarching totems of American fashion. The show opened with a speech; a disembodied voice suddenly coming onto the speakers, saying, “New York, where you come to find yourself. A lifelong search, a lifetime of questions, asking and searching, to find their true selves,” and ended with the advice to “always be true to yourselves,” as the models wearing tweed tailoring and silk mogador jacquards in collegiate colors paired up with their own version of the “toys,” who sported more otherworldly silhouettes like globule-shaped gowns with bustles and enormous hoop skirts adorned with multicolored lobsters.
Thom Browne’s “adults.” All photographs courtesy of Thom Browne.
But the show’s references came in more layered and subtle forms, as well. For one, the influence of the individuality of New York style was palpable. “I love the ’50s and ’60s, but it’s about the sensibility,” Browne said. “It’s not always specifically the clothing. It just feels like, sometimes, life seemed very easy and simple. That’s inspiring.”
The archetypes of fashion history and their influence on American culture were omnipresent—albeit through the kaleidoscopic lens of Browne. After all, the designer chose to take a break from his normal Paris Fashion Week schedule, and instead presented fall 2022 in New York City, to coincide with the second part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Gala, curated by his partner, Andrew Bolton. As a result of the upcoming “Gilded Glamour”-themed Met Gala, Browne’s front row was stacked with celebrities: Simon Rex, Charles Melton (who went shirtless underneath his blazer, save a couple gold chains), Maisie Williams, Chase Sui Wonders, Teyana Taylor and Iman Shumpert, Cooper Hoffman, and Leslie Odom Jr. where just a handful of the stars in attendance—leading some to wonder who’d be wearing Thom Browne on the red carpet come Monday.
When it came to the clothes, it seemed Browne had turned toys on their heads, conceptualized and translated them into fabrics, then mashed all that up with classic heritage tweeds and men’s ties. But there were also supersized patchwork pieces, which recalled the classically American quilt. Bulbous forms hinted at Comme des Garçons’s spring 1997 Lumps and Bumps collection; a nod to one of the great international designers who has so heavily influenced American fashion. Browne remains one of the handful of designers who still respects the theater of a fashion show. He’s also bound to create discourse anytime he creates new work, even for the fashion averse—and that says a lot in today’s world.