Thom Browne based his Fall 2017 collection around a term usually applied to German high art: Gesumptkunstwerk, or a piece of total art. After being introduced to the word by his partner, Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute curator Andrew Bolton, Browne hoped to create a totally immersive experience for his expectant audience. "I wanted everyone to feel like they were a part of the show, as opposed to watching the show," he said backstage following the presentation.
The same could probably be said of any of his shows. But this year, Browne, never one for celebrity pomp and circumstance, did not even bother with a front row, however pared back they may have been in the past (last year, Whoopi Goldberg and Tavi Gevinson put in appearances). Instead, he staged an elaborate set that looked like a frozen pond in midwinter, albeit one constructed out of bits of wool and houndstooth. "I grew up in the country and I thought it was nice to almost reference Amish quilts and that patchwork," Brown explained. The patchwork motif showed up on outerwear and in the quilted feel of the pond itself, with panels of gray and ivory. Cattails bobbled around the edges and oars lay discarded in the hull of a rowboat; creatures like something out of Game of Thrones stood sentry in the four corners of the gallery where Browne staged his show, bearing faintly glowing orbs in each hand. A plush dog, a stand-in for Browne's beloved Hector, sat in a rowboat, and penguins dotted the set and on the clothes that followed.
(Are penguins the new puppies? "No!" Browne cried. "No one's ever going to replace Hector.")
Like Browne's menswear collection that showed in Paris last month, the New York womenswear show was also a meditation on the art of tailoring; in the first of three movements, soundtracked by Wagner, the models tottered out in neatly tailored gray ensembles, their lips covered in patches of wool with exaggerated eyebrows and trailing yarn braids to match. On their feet, scaffolded platforms were attached to resemble ice skates—a few of the models bobbled slightly, as they were actually trying to walk on skates. Though the collection featured no fewer than 50 looks (Browne professed he had been encouraged to edit down, but couldn't), there was nary a dress in sight—and, indeed, one fur coat read "... It's Too Cold for a Dress ..." across the back. "Tailoring can be as feminine and as sexy as a dress," Browne said.
Instead, there were Bermuda shorts cuffed at the knee, neat trousers, and skirt suits in shades of gray; and, as the music gave way to Kraftwerk, the runway made room for bolder colors and more playful outerwear, like a fur coat adorned with a pastoral scene in primary colors.
Gesumptkunstwerk is also a term that has been applied to both Wagner and Kraftwerk. During the third movement, Marilyn Manson's "The Dope Show" came tearing through the speakers while edgier, all-black ensembles—the Thom Browne version of black tie—meandered onto the ice rink. "He lives his life as a piece of art," Browne said of Manson. He added quickly that no, he did not listen to Marilyn Manson while designing this collection.
During the finale, the Thom Browne bride, a more playful woman than her Chanel analogue, glided onto the ice in a down overcoat with a fur "No Dresses" button pinned to her lapel, with an attendant bearing the quilted down train trailing her. They made their lap of the rink, and then it was time to head indoors, where a cup of hot cocoa likely awaited.
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