“It almost works too well,” says Thom Browne with a devilish smile about his new way of working both in-person and remotely during the pandemic. The proof is in his ability to have produced succinct, timely, and impeccably made clothing three times so far since the lockdowns began, never missing a deadline or show date. In December 2020, he released pre-fall for men, today he’s revealing women’s pre-fall, and next week he will unveil a new project at Paris’s Men’s Fashion Week, followed by a fall 2021 co-gender collection in February.
One imagines the Thom Browne studio in overdrive, brimming with animal intarsias, rep stripe corsetry, and pom-pom stocking hats, tailors and patternmakers stitching and cutting furiously. Somehow, though, everyone seems calm and in order. The benefit of having a decisive captain at the helm, perhaps.
There’s advantages, too, in working with such consistent themes. The women’s pre-fall collection carries over the central ideas of Browne’s pre-fall menswear: the crisp Americanness of scout uniforms, salmon and bear motifs, and a versatile pleated and corseted shape. There are many one-to-one analogues between the collections: the elegant pleated trenchcoats, the rubber-sole duck boots, the corseted waist and kilt skirt as a central silhouette. “In general I like to think about traditional pieces of clothing,” Browne says. Of course, he adds his own spice of subversion to staid items like Norfolk jackets and black tie tuxes.
Applying the same traditions to men and women produces different results, though. On men, a skirt is still provocative and a corset even more so. On women, the look reads preppy but twisted—without much shock factor. That’s not to say Browne relies on provocation to keep things interesting, but it does put into question the larger purpose of gendered collections. Browne’s main seasons are combined in a single presentation so seamlessly it’s curious why ideas are divvied up here.
That said, there are some new surprises for ladies, including a daffodil embroidered jacket with three-dimensional tufts of thread wafting across its front, as though the wearer had just made a wish. “For when you can’t go outside,” he smiles. That sense of whimsy is what has kept each collection—men’s, women’s, unisex, running, who knows what’s next!—exciting amidst the doldrums of pandemic life.