Thom Browne, 2011

Speaking of camp, for his Fall/Winter 2011 presentation, Thom Browne laid it on thick, setting  his bizzaro American bourgeois fantasy and Charles Jamesian shapes against a backdrop of christian piety ala Maria of the Sound of Music, Gospel, and Aretha Franklin. You can deduce that maybe Browne doesn’t take himself too seriously, utilizing the format of a fashion show to entertain as well as display clothes — he has fun with them and intends for his audience to have fun as well. In what has become true Thom Browne style; a bricolage technique of mixing and merging a variety of loosely connected references, the effect is something as humorous as it is terrifying, as deceptive as it is alluring, and as subversive as it is conservative. There is nothing explicitly unsettling or bold in Browne’s clothes yet they are still so shockingly distinct and unprecedented. He is a master of hyperbole, whether it is in the theatrics of his show (perhaps the only real one left in town) or in his overzealous yet skillful use of trim and details (his unfettered placement of his tri-color tape to brand plackets, vents, tabs, loops, bags, and jewelry should be disastrous but actually look quite good), or in his choice of makeup (the model’s exaggerated eyelashes render them hysterical cartoon versions of a woman), Browne utilizes the expressive qualities of gesture and symbols, playing on their scale and contrast, with potent results. The camp and kitsch push towards a heightened intellectual awareness, if you can believe it (Elsa Schiaparelli did, Miuccia Prada does), shifting their meaning, re-appropriated in his language of country clubs, Sunday school, constipated conservative suiting, just as laughable feminine banality, and musical theater.  In his efforts to reconcile his own autobiographical narrative with the contemporary challenge to redefine and make relevant American dress,  Browne has become a sort of post-modern Ralph Lauren, and with his first full show for women he’s brought that charm to the other sex. Bravo.

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