It’s been just over a month since Thom Browne was named chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and the industry has eagerly awaited his first show under that new title ever since. One year ago, Browne hosted a ceremonious toybox-themed show as he returned to New York City after years of showing in Paris (last season, he went back for a subculture-inspired cinderella fairytale). But his fall 2023 collection felt like a real homecoming show. And what a show it was! There were aliens, a crashed plane, space travelers, and an angel-like figure, all walking on a sandy clock inside the The Shed at Hudson Yards, where the performance took place.
Browne was thinking about Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s childhood story of The Little Prince for this collection. He was inspired by Meghan Sullivan, a professor at Notre Dame (Browne’s alma mater) who quoted the story recently over drinks with the designer. Browne was intrinsically inspired by “the beauty and innocence of children, and how the story says that children actually see more than adults do.” With that, he represented the tale through the idea that “the more conceptual tailoring meant the kids actually saw things as more interesting.”
The scene was set with a massive plane in the middle of a round runway full of black sand (which was swept to perfection, like a life-size Zen garden, before the show began). The sound of a ticking clock could be heard overhead, as two models emerged like lost wanderers in a desert, alluding to Saint-Exupéry’s famous story. Next came the alien-like figures, who wore white floor-length column dresses embroidered with planets, stars, and glasses of wine; they had long, curled nails by Juan Alvear and Space Age headpieces, too. The next part of the collection dove into Browne’s signatures: suiting—first, oversized, and then exploded and totally abstracted. A sleeve pasted here, a lapel twisted there, a button-down and a suit jacket merged into a new kind of a skirt again and again. A core part of the collection was puffed up and mega-oversized—a little bit like a football player’s shoulder pads—another reference to Browne’s history of taking inspiration from sports and, of course, staging annual branded football games.
The chairman of the CFDA should undoubtedly set the tone for American fashion—and here, Browne definitely led by example. Take, for instance, the fact that in recent years, New York Fashion Week has become increasingly commercial. Browne’s show still included plenty of wearable staples (when broken down and deconstructed without all the extra styling), but it also sold an incredible narrative and performance with an equal amount of pieces that were as outlandish as they were salable. “I love to create the fantasy and things being somewhat oversized and bigger for the eyes, I think, is a good experience,” he said backstage. “For me, the shows are pure creativity. I don’t think about business and commerce at all. It’s all about ideas and concepts. That part of it is important, because it does create such a fantastical view of the story I’m telling.” To be fair, Browne’s commercial offerings are just that, pretty commercial—but he fulfills every fantasy when it comes to staging a show, without it feeling gimmicky or too try-hard.
Browne also closed the show with Precious Lee during a season that’s been overwhelmingly lacking in body diversity. The model wore a white suit dress with a skirt that blended details of a deconstructed jacket and high-volume puffed sleeves, with glittering silver lips and a gilded headpiece. “That was a little artistic license,” Browne said. “There was no angel in the story. I met Precious a couple months ago and I thought she would be the most perfect person to end this story, and raise the little prince up.”
When Browne took his bow, he ran a box of heart-shaped chocolates to his husband, Andrew Bolton—as Erykah Badu, Lil Nas X, Penn Badgley, Queen Latifah, and Whoopi Goldberg watched from the front row. The overwhelming theme here was bigger than big, torn apart, and made into something new, almost otherworldly. The Little Prince presents a story of a young traveler visiting various planets, appealing to the idea of seeing things through new perspectives. Likewise, this collection re-examined traditional American classics with its own voice. Right now, the industry feels like it needs a little more of that.