18-Oct, 02:26

08:16, February 16 338 0

2017-02-16 08:16:13
Fashion Review: Thom Browne Triumphs; Kanye Repents

There’s one more big collection to go before the New York ready-to-wear season officially draws to a close and the style circus moves on to London, but unless something extraordinary happens (and it could, it always could; this is fashion, after all), Thom Browne just had the best show of the week. The kind of show that reminds you why there are shows in the first place, why we go — and why anyone should care.

In his usual Chelsea art gallery basement, Mr. Browne built a woolen pastoral; an ice rink surrounded by barren trees and bulrushes, with boulders and penguins and an old row boat on the side, all of it covered in many shades of gray men’s wear fabrics: herringbones, tweeds, flannels and pinstripes. Then out walked four living lampposts covered head to toe in houndstooth, a globe in each hand. And an ode to tailoring began.

At a time when challenging gender stereotypes is the watch-phrase of the day, the show on Wednesday was the smartest commentary on the subject yet — in part because it turned the issue on its head: Instead of putting men in women’s wear, it put women in men’s wear, simultaneously underscoring how much the antecedents are intertwined and demanding a reassessment of the suit.

There was not a dress on the runway (indeed, a single-breasted mink jacket bore the message “it’s too cold for a dress” on the back). Instead, there were Bermuda-short suits and skirt suits and trouser suits, almost all covered by perfectly cut overcoats. There was nothing uniform or limiting about it. Within the frame of jacket, trouser, coat and tie, Mr. Browne invented legions.

There were puns on the penguin suit — a.k.a. the tuxedo — in patent leather intarsia with penguin profiles, and stuffed-shirt tote bags (literally, shirt fronts with ties). There were inside-out collages that treated lining tulle as a scrim (a technique, by the way, also adopted by Derek Lam, who included in his appealing “one-stop shopping” presentation louche pajama trousers, the print underneath cleverly veiled by a chiffon overlay). And there were intarsia farm scenes in furs, coats dripping fringe made of mother-of-pearl buttons instead of paillettes, and a wedding nondress finale featuring a bride in a short black puffa coat with a long black puffa train. There was a lot more.

It was part social commentary and part disciplined creativity, and either way it made you think. Then it made you smile, and then it made you want to get dressed. That doesn’t happen that often.

Ever since Kanye West took over Madison Square Garden for his combined album/collection introduction a year ago, for example, thinking about his Yeezy fashion line has pretty much always meant thinking about Kanye; the clothes falling a far second to the showman. Last season, his follow-up mega-production on Roosevelt Island did not end well (there were interminable waits, fainting models and boring stuff), and since that experience and his apparently stressful fall, a new, chastened Kanye has emerged.

This time, he held his show in a studio in Chelsea Piers, a standard stop on the fashion week tour of Manhattan. There was no crazy line outside. It began only 20 minutes late; also standard for fashion week. Inside, bleachers surrounded a rectangular tower about 25 feet tall. The lights went up, and video projections of models wearing the collection appeared on the screens, one at a time, rotating slowly. They were looming. But in the context of Kanye, the effect was tame.

So were the looks — Season 5 — which also appeared on models striding past: faded denim, camouflage print, track suits, big sweats, spike-heel boots, a random old auntie fur, some Calabasas branding. In the end, Mr. West did not appear to take his bow. Instead, a body guard beckoned Kim Kardashian West backstage. She, in turn, waved Anna Wintour of Vogue inside. Most everyone else scratched their heads and left.

Without Kanye’s bombast and grand ambition to puff out the clothes and make them seem more important than they were, they looked kind of — deflated. That’s it?

Yup.

He had bought himself some patience, if not much else.

For his second see-now/buy-now collection, however, Ralph Lauren bought himself some flowers. A lot of them.

The walls of his Madison Avenue flagship were lined with 100,000 white orchids, 300 air plants and desert agave (all of which will remain in situ at least for the immediate future, so shoppers can see them, too), and a sprinkling of automated butterflies with wings that opened and closed in syncopation.

“Everyone is so anxious and cold,” said David Lauren, the designer’s son and chief innovation officer of the company. “We thought it would be nice to create a bit of an oasis.”

Also, apparently, the outfits to go with: desert-tone washed-silk gowns and flight suits; blouson satin pants and python print jackets; gold sequin trousers and distressed leather jackets; ropes and ropes of beads or hammered-bronze jewelry. There were loose silk djellabas in Spice Road shades and evening gowns in iridescent florals, hazy as a mirage.

Imagine a really glamorous Bob Hope and Bing Crosby movie, and you’ll get the idea. Except reality kept intruding in the form of all those orchids, with their fashion-truncated, resplendent life span. And it was impossible not to think: All this will pass.

Presumably, that was not the takeaway Mr. Lauren was going for.