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Thom Browne's Big Return to New York Fashion Week Is Classic Thom Browne

New York Fashion Week attendees who've been missing Thom Browne from the official show calendar were in for a treat on Saturday afternoon, when the designer made his comeback for the first time since he began showing in Paris two years ago. But they weren’t the only ones; tourists who happened to pass through the southeast end of Central Park were, too. Rather than his usual Chelsea gallery basement, which the designer has transformed into everything from the whole of Washington Square Park to a makeshift swimming pool, this time, Browne transformed the Plaza Hotel’s plaza into his playground. (He even rented a school bus.)

"I'm really approaching this more as an art installation than a performance or a fashion moment," Browne said the morning before in his immaculate Garment District offices, which were the slightest bit disheveled in the midst of preparing for the performance-slash-installation. (Is there anything more Thom Browne than immaculate mischief?)

The Officepeople, a performance/installation by Thom Browne during New York Fashion Week, September 2019.

Julien Boudet

On the surface at least, there was nothing remotely mischievous about The Officepeople, as Browne titled the installation, which unfolded on Saturday shortly before 6 p.m. Twenty models—10 men, 10 women—filed out of a Thom Browne-emblazoned school bus and made their way through the Nathan's Hot Dog stands and chaos of midtown Manhattan. They crossed a street; they stood in line; they sat down; they opened their briefcases—all in perfect unison. They took bites of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and they devoured a quick page or two of The Hardy Boys (for the boys) and Nancy Drew (for the girls). They closed their briefcases; they stood up; they filed, two by two, back onto the Thom Browne school bus, all within view of an eclectic crowd demonstrative of Browne’s universal appeal, including Vic Mensa, Maisie Williams, Jeremy O. Harris, Natalia Dyer, and Lee Pace.

The Officepeople, a performance/installation by Thom Browne during New York Fashion Week, September 2019.

2019 Adam Katz Sinding

The Officepeople, a performance/installation by Thom Browne during New York Fashion Week, September 2019.

2019 Adam Katz Sinding

The Officepeople was intended to celebrate the arrival of his womenswear to one of his earliest menswear supporters, Bergdorf Goodman. But really, "it was a good excuse to do something in New York," Browne explained. "Everybody yells at me for moving to Paris, but it has nothing to do with not wanting to be here—I do actually miss doing things in New York as well." (His actual spring/summer 2020 show will still take place in Paris in a few weeks, as is now usual.)

As you may have guessed, each and every one of the models was also wearing the exact same Thom Browne uniform: tailored jackets, pleated skirt, ties, and cardigans with two buttons buttoned in grey, plus black knee-high socks and brogues. "It's a real stretch," Browne said with a laugh, gesturing at his own nearly identical uniform. He knows that, for those familiar with Thom Browne, none of it is unexpected: "They’ll probably be like, Why did I come?"

But to Browne, there could be nothing more exciting. After all, it's been a full decade since he choreographed an army of office drones clacking away at typewriters at Pitti Uomo. "I mean, I love big fantasy, too, but if you want to know purely what I like people to see, it’s things that are so weirdly, awkwardly simple and rigorous and not so exciting," he said. "People are always wanting that next thing, and when they don’t get that next thing? I think there’s something really interesting about that. It never gets old."

The Officepeople, a performance/installation by Thom Browne during New York Fashion Week, September 2019.

2019 Adam Katz Sinding

Related: Strength in Numbers: A Brief History of Fashion's Fascination With Uniformity