Photos: Katherine Lowe
Thom Browne showed his men’s collection inside a grand old ballroom at the Westin Hotel in Paris last month: A turn-of-the-century dinner party was in progress, complete with piles of steaming food, taxidermy animals and models who actually ate. His women’s collection was presented tonight in New York – also in a grand old ballroom – on the third floor of New York Public Library. This time however, food was not on the menu.
Walking in, we were greeted by two kneeling altar boys in signature shrunken grey Thom Browne suits, bowing their heads in prayer as Latin choral music reverberated around the room. When all were present, they moved around the altar and stood facing the crowd. In walked 40 nuns in dark, floor-length habits, with severe white winged veils covering their faces. If it wasn’t for the eyes, which were framed by ludicrously long false lashes, they would have looked exactly like the doomed women in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian feminist novel A Handmaid’s Tale.
One by one, each model walked up to the altar boys, stood as they undressed her, then circled the room. Beneath the gowns, Browne’s aesthetic appeared. It started with his classic cropped suits in gingham checks and plaids, with striped shirts and college ties. The sense of repression continued with capes featuring zip-open armholes, only accessible from the outside, and fur cummerbunds that pinned the girls’ arms to their bodies. But Browne also showed his talent for shape and proportion, in sculpted tops with curved necks and lobster sleeves, and tulip skirts – the perfect hour glass figure.
Asked if he had intended to suggest a sinister world where women should be seen but not heard, Browne shook his head. “I grew up Catholic and it was a beautiful visual image. There was a bit of playing with convention, but I was mainly just trying to capture that beautiful image.” Hallelujah to that.