Thom Browne is one of the most cinematic designers around—he has the imagination of an old Hollywood dreamer. Last March, he staged a preppy Noah’s Ark; a few weeks before that, a droll dinner party for animals slicing into a human cake. So he embraced the challenge of a video show with characteristic panache: “It just came really naturally to all of us because we kind of do it every season,” Browne said in a Zoom interview last week. It wasn’t really a challenge for him to create a short film, and he pulled it off effortlessly The conceit was pure Browne: the 2131 Olympics, taking place on the moon, with each of the athletes attired in what the commentator, played geniusly by comedian Jordan Firstman, referred to as the work of “Earth-based designer Thom Browne.” It was a pitch-perfect mix of Browne’s extremely human sense of humor—Hector, his dachshund and mascot, appears as a UFO to deliver the torchbearers—and his riche oddballness.
But don’t let the video distract you from the fact that this collection had, plainly, some of the most beautiful clothing Browne has produced in seasons, or maybe ever. His past few collections have been wonderfully dotty and brash—his spring 2020 codpiece-and-panniers show was a personal favorite. But this collection was done in nearly all white, peaceful, bright, and almost solemn. “I was definitely thinking of it as hopeful,” Browne said. “It just felt really clean, and really hopeful.” The silhouette itself was a little looser, the jackets a bit more relaxed and the men’s skirts less prim and more wearable, more elegant. He said he was looking at the silhouettes of the 1920s, which gave the pieces a sense of suppleness and freedom, but it also just looked so rich, all those cashmeres and cotton piques and wools embroidered with Browne-ian witticisms like crests as well as beaded renderings of Browne’s own highly unusual sketches.
Browne has been one of the leaders in gender-fluid fashion—his men’s skirts are strong sellers—and started showing his men’s and women’s collections together back in March. He’s fond of saying that tweaking the suit just a bit drives people wild because it's such a conservative form. But this collection felt less subversive and more serene. Is it that our eyes are adjusting to the image of men in skirts and dresses, or has something about Browne’s approach changed? In part, he said, referencing the androgynous shapes of the 1920s made the shapes less suggestive—women’s slim-lined skirts and dresses from that era fell on the body almost like men’s tailoring, so this iteration of gender fluid fashion just looks less wild than, say, Marie Antoinette’s boned and sculpted pre-Revolution frocks.
But the warm depravity of that era’s androgyny, favoring sly pleasure rather than shocking opulence, added to the collection’s larger message. “I’d like it to become normalized,” he said, of genderless clothes. “It’s important that it becomes a little bit more natural. And it played to the hopefulness of the collection—that people are moving forward, and seeing things in different ways, and accepting them more readily. I’ve always loved the idea of a genderless approach to fashion…. I think there’s something really beautiful about it.”
Originally Appeared on GQ