Thom Browne delights in using childlike devices to tell whimsical stories with dark edges, imbuing a sense of fairytale into every show. His animal centered Fall 2020 collection opened with masked models dressed as a charismatic giraffe, a somber rhino, and a host of other polite and slightly unsettling creatures including a lion, buck, elephant, hippo, horse, and pig – all decked out in top of the line Thom Browne gear, naturally. What took place was magical – in a snowy landscape filled with skeleton trees a brown wooden double door stood alone dividing the set in two. The animals paraded out and politely held open the double doors as the runway procession unfolded in pairs of identical looks. Thom Browne integrated his mens and womens collections into one co-ed collection with each look in duplicate on one male and one female model walking side by side.
For his co-ed collection Browne focused on a layered silhouette with boxy broad shoulders and a loose and elongated sack fit. Chesterfields and elongated trench coats typically made up the top layer with coordinating jackets, neat oxford shirts, and variations on cropped trousers, pleated skirts, and the occasional dress beneath. The slightly flared column or elongated A-line shape looked fantastic on both the masculine and feminine frames, and Browne left the proportions the same for both. The midi length was an important element for many garments, with both coats and skirts reaching somewhere around mid shin. Staggered hem kilts hovered around knee level, but pleated apron dresses worn open like dusters added length and drama to a trouser and blazer. “Funmix” plaids added texture and chaos to classic pieces, and reconstructed all in one dresses showed off Thom Browne’s more avant garde side with jackets, trousers, shirts, and pleated skirts draped all over dress frames to create unexpected compositions.
True to form, Thom Brown slipped some unsettling details into the charming collection for those who looked close. The most obvious of these were the trompe l’oeil “human” stoles that mimicked fox fur stoles, with little flattened arms and legs dangling from an elongated flattened suit. The head was represented with a plain grey circle and hands and feet were generalized grey shapes as well, implying a disregard of any kind of personality or significance to the identity of the person. The cartoonish style kept the effect from being grisly, though they were grim even as they were funny.
Other dark details were more obscure. In one of the intarsia coats a beautiful mountain scene portrays animals and a lake, with a man in a suit running for his life from a lion. Another less literal coat features “radial applique,” with slabs of grey plaid layered with red chiffon subtly creating a flayed effect. The final look worn by the snake models featured twin bolero style jackets covered in textural grey bullion degradé embroidery flecked with ruffled organza bits and a python sized snake draped and wound across the two side by side models. In their hands they carried glossy black coiled snake bags, which made the flakey grey snake coiled around their shoulders look more like a molted snake skin.
While the models walked in identical pairs through the show, matching even in skin tone, they reappeared for the final walk rearranged into same sex pairs in mix and matched outfits not only shoulder to shoulder but holding hands. This delivered a one-two punch of a political statement, implying commentary in support of same sex couples, but also implying an alternate storyline about learning to partner with people who are different. In a divided world fraught with tensions, it was a beautiful image with a hopeful message.