Garden gnomes guarding the cabana? Check. Silvery sharks in sailboat tights, beaded starfish and glittery mermaids slow-walking the strand? Check. Watermelon-slice handbags, pineapple fascinators and melting ice-cream face-masks accessorizing a tossed salad of seersucker, gingham, checks and Oxford cloth skirts, trousers, blazers and gowns on a red, white and blue boardwalk runway? Check, check, check and check.
That may sound like a fashion fever dream induced by eating off-season oysters, but it was actually the spring and summer 2019 women’s runway collection from Thom Browne that was, at turns, silly and sinister and perfectly showcased the couture-level embroidery and tailoring skills that convinced Italian textile maker and menswear powerhouse Ermenegildo Zegna to snap up 85% of the brand earlier this year at a valuation of half a billion dollars.
Some of the maritime motifs, including the sailboats, anchors, lobsters and whales, that appeared as allover prints on tights, jackets and skirts felt familiar — something Browne cheekily calls out in the show notes, which are more a stream-of-thought journal entry mulling the notions of good and bad. “Theft turns from bad to good,” he writes. “Bits from previous Thom Browne collections resurface in a new context.”
But the quirky preppy allover prints aren’t really what Browne’s trying to sell you anyway; it’s his ability to slice, dice and re-splice familiar clothes in head-scratching — but still desirable — ways. And this collection had a couple of winners.
The first came by way of scalloped-edge pieces of fabric (scallop, get it?) held in place with lots and lots of gold-colored blazer-style buttons (about 11 buttons to the length of a forearm) along shoulder seams and down skirt fronts, with vacant buttonholes giving the impression that the mixed and matched pieces could be endlessly reconfigured as easily as unbuttoning and rebuttoning a shirt.
The second came in the form of two trompe l’oeil pieces, one a double-breasted blazer in wide stripes of green and blue, designed to look as if a floral silk scarf had been nonchalantly thrown around the neck, laid over the collar bone and knotted in the front. The second was a dress filled with exquisitely detailed sequin embroidery that created not only a seascape as breathtakingly beautiful as the Impressionist paintings that hang in the museums of this fair city, but also, at first glance, that the top half of the dress was a preppy-style blazer with contrast-taped lapels.
As enjoyable as the show and collection were, there were two things that left us a bit unsettled — one serious and one not so much (and no, it had nothing to do with the gnomes sporting seersucker beards). On the serious side, a handful of the women’s looks (including, most memorably, a luxe lobster, complete with tiered tale and claws the size of cartoon boxing gloves) were sent down the runway with arms bound behind or beside them. Browne has sent wardrobe-hobbled women down the runway before (usually in constricting pencil skirts), but in the current #MeToo era, it struck a jarring off-note.
In the not-so-serious department, Browne may have put us off ice cream cones for life, thanks to a particularly freakish and frightening melting ice-cream mask in the mix.