NEW YORK -- It was Thom Browne's moment to seize. After being thrust into the international spotlight during the presidential inauguration last month for creating First Lady Michelle Obama's superbly tailored, navy blue silk tie jacquard coat and dress combo, expectations were high Monday night when the designer presented his fall-winter women's collection at New York Fashion Week.
And Browne rose to the occasion with a collection that was a love letter to powerful women, and a stunning display of his fabric sense and tailoring skills.
After launching his business with made-to-measure men's suits in 2001, and managing to push the slow-moving needle of men's style with his high-water pants and shrunken silhouette, Browne proved he has something equally potent to say in women's wear.
The scene: Entering the studio space, the scenery was ominous. A winter forest. Snow on the ground. Lifeless male models in Thom Browne menswear, sporting crowns of thorns, were blindfolded and bound to bed frames with blood red strips of fabric. Musings on the death of masculinity? Or religious persecution? Knowing Browne, it was probably a little bit of everything and nothing at the same time. After all, he knows the value of head-scratching stagecraft. But it didn't steal the focus, not this time around.
For the first time, Browne showed his collection in a seated runway show instead of a presentation. His models took their time winding through the forest so that the audience could take in every detail, from the red talon fingernails and rose vines climbing merino wool tights, to the magical melding of lace and tweed on a coat.
The inspiration: "Strong women, strong shoulders, strong hips," the designer said. "The rest was just riffs on the color red."
The look: Larger than life. An exaggerated silhouette. Padded hips and linebacker-sized shoulders that looked as if they could take on the weight of the world. Men's wear jacquards, houndstooth, checks and plaids patchworked on womanly curves. Fitted jackets, one in a rose print tweed with a ladder-stitched peplum over undulating skirts. A boxy capelet and coat edged in fur. Coat dresses with form-fitted bodices and lace peeking out from the cuffs. Bulbous gowns covered in red silk blooms, and a red finale dress folded and swirled like an enormous red rose. Over the top? Of course. But it's a safe bet that the commercial collection will be brought down to size. (After all, Browne's short pants, a signature of his men's runway collection, are sold unhemmed.) The accessories were notable too, including mixed fabric box frame bags with the signature tricolored Thom Browne grosgrain ribbon loop that acts as his under-the-radar logo.
The verdict: A game changer for the designer and for this fashion season, which has seen a lot of menswear-inspired looks, but none as original as this. As the crowd filed out, more than one person could be heard comparing Browne to another visionary, Alexander McQueen.