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Thom Browne creates a winter wonderland in tweed and flannel

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NEW YORK (AP) — At the end of a long day, after a crowded week of shows at New York Fashion Week, fashionistas crowded into the lobby of a Chelsea gallery, waiting to be energized and revived by whatever burst of creativity was going to come from Thom Browne. The designer’s shows are like living art exhibits, and they’re always one of the top tickets of the week.

Browne did not disappoint; in fact, he outdid himself Wednesday night with an ingenious show that paid tribute to the art of tailoring. It also paid tribute, in no specific order, to ice skating, penguins, tuxedoes, and to Browne’s beloved canine companion, Hector. Was Hector in the audience to enjoy his tribute? You bet he was.

Arriving on the gallery’s bottom floor, guests walked into a winter wonderland in shades of gray. Browne had constructed a lake, surrounded by trees and shrubs. There was a rowboat with oars; a penguin perched atop a rocky embankment. Everything, down to the leaves and plants, was covered with Browne’s fabrics — a pastoral scene in herringbone and pinstripes and flannel.

A couple of human lampposts — covered head to toe in gray fabric, holding two lit orbs — heralded the beginning of the show. Models came out in a slow procession, each outfit a new take on the art of precise, high-end tailoring. It began in all grays, then segued to color, and finally concluded in black and white. There were 50 looks, all riffs on the perfectly formed jacket or overcoat.

There wasn’t a dress in sight; Browne’s purpose was to show that men’s and women’s clothes come from the same place. (He is still more famous for his menswear). In fact, one model at the end wore a sewn-on, tongue-in-cheek button depicting a dress, with a red line through it. “Just say No to dresses,” was the humorous message.

Backstage, Browne explained that he was working with a concept called “Gesamtkunstwerk,” which means a total piece of art. “I wanted people to feel that they were part of the show, instead of just watching the show,” he said. “I wanted you to feel like everything you experienced was part of the show.” And his ethos, he said, was that womenswear can be both as tailored as men’s, AND feminine.

“It’s really about an appreciation for clothes-making, and everything that goes into it,” he said.

There were suits of all kinds: Suits with skirts, with woolen Bermuda shorts, with trousers. There were embroidered penguins — in black leather on white, or in the “preppy” style usually devoted to whales. “Penguins are just a really fun animal,” he quipped.

The intricate tailoring in the clothes was complemented by fanciful accessories, all seamlessly integrated into the visual style of the outfits. And so, a tuxedo suit might be accompanied by a handbag in the form of a tuxedo shirt. And there were adorable penguin-shaped bags, too — a take on the designer’s “Hector” bags personifying his dog. “Nobody will ever replace Hector,” Browne replied, when asked if penguins were “the new dog.”

The shoes were inventive takes on the ice skate, with wedges instead of blades. And the hairstyling was even more unusual: body-length fabric braids in gray and white, cascading down the models’ backs. Finally, there were the lips: cutouts of tweed fabric in exaggerated lip shapes, covering the mouth.

The music was part Wagner, part Marilyn Manson. It all culminated in a finale that had a bride entering the scene with a flowing train — only the bride was in a puffer coat, and the train was a puffer train.

At the show’s end, people stayed on to gaze at the fanciful stage that Browne had created, photographing the chicly attired penguins. “I do like people to see that I do more than just make clothes,” he commented. Mission accomplished.

— Jocelyn Noveck



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