By now everyone has already marvelled over Thom Browne’s AW15 collection – a phantasmagorical take on mourning attire, presented on the backs of some fortysomething fallen angels: pure art.
In keeping with the commercial mentality of the city, many other designers on the NYFW lineup make no such claims to ‘art’; for Thom Browne, however, art is the whole point. Who could forget last season’s show, an uncanny bedtime story of six stylish sisters, The Virgin Suicides for the sartorial set?; or the season before, a ceremonial procession of gold-and grey-clad nuns?
One sometimes wonders if selling clothes isn’t merely a pretense by which the designer can justify his incredible shows. A typical Thom Browne show both fascinates and frightens, dazzles and distresses – yet this season Browne took his work a step further.
Upon arrival, the difference was immediately palpable, its origin unclear. Guests were led upward through a wraparound wooden structure – the 19th-century approximation of a gladiatorial stadium, with bench seating in tiers descending toward a central viewing pit.
The pit was divided into three adjacent wood-paneled rooms. Viewed from above, it was like peering into a music box, each room occupied by a corpse in a white lace dress, lying on a gurney while inspected by men in white lab coats: eerily white, pristine.
Except for classical music, it was all silent, still – everybody whispering. Guests were ushered to their seats, while a kind of divine weight suspended like an incense in the air, and it was only after ten minutes that I realized what was so different and powerful about this particular arrangement: Thom Browne had literally placed us inside his world – created a structure which eliminated every outside distraction.
As a rule, unadulterated art does not unfold at NYFW. Up until showtime, the seats are always bubbling with laughter and loud chatter, while guests push through a central throng, and paparazzi flashbulbs constantly illuminate the front row. Yet here were no crowds, no paparazzi – no distractions at all, to undermine the scene which Browne wished his guests to witness.
It was sacred space, and furthermore, everyone had a perfect bird-eye view – another situation unheard of at NYFW, where relative degrees of power are determined by the number of VIP heads which obstruct one’s view of the show.
The lights dimmed and snow wafted onto the three vignettes. Enter an angel of Death, in a veil and a coat of iridescent raven feathers. She meandered despondently through the lonely, snow-dusted purgatory, awakening the corpses with a caress, as the question rang like a lingering bell through my mind: Why can’t every show be more like a Thom Browne show?
What we need at NYFW is this: fewer traditional runways, filled with paparazzi, stormed by apathetic models – and more spectacle, more art.
Photography: Dan and Corina Lecca
Words: Seymour Glass