Set in the Oscar Niemeyer-designed headquarters of the Parti Communiste Français (French Communist Party) headquarters, the June 27 show began with attendees seated like visiting fashion dignitaries at long, curved desks in the avant-garde building's domed conference room, set with 100 identical, blank Mead notebooks, 100 precisely sharpened yellow No. 2 pencils and 100 dual sets of miniature U.S. and French desk flags.
Four men in crisp, matching blue crest-emblazoned blazers and dark sunglasses took to the dais, speaking — first in English and then in French — about heroes and sacrifice and pride.
Then, to the strains of "The Blue Danube" (a nod to "2001: A Space Odyssey"), the conference room doors slid open, and a cadre of identically helmeted astronauts wearing white Thom Browne spacesuits filed into the room.
Removing their space helmets, to reveal gold reflective sunglasses and gold-flecked lips, the Brownemonauts stood at attention before filing out of the room, where they doffed their space onesies in an anteroom to reveal the spring-summer 2011 collection and circulated back through the delegation.
When the trappings of space travel were stripped away — literally — the collection underneath was based out of Cape Cod, not Cape Canaveral, a colorful summer jaunt in Browne's trademark short-suit silhouette that included pink and red seersucker pinstripes, blue gingham checks, tiny bows, sequins and the marine life motif of the season: a preppy allover embroidery of sharks and goldfish.
As the show closed to the sound of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" ("This is ground control to Major Tom / You've really made the grade / And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear …" it was cemented as the kind of fashion moment destined to be discussed and dissected for seasons to come.
"It was a brilliant show," said Eric Jennings, men's fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue, who rated it as one of the top three shows of Paris Fashion Week. "The Communist Party headquarters was the perfect location because his shows are all about uniformity and conformity."
Dawn of the second decade
So, as the Thom Browne brand closes in on its first decade, what does the second decade look like?
"Well, if everything failed and he was about to go out of business, he would certainly be able to make children's clothes — his silhouette is perfect for that," Bess joked. "But seriously, there's a lot more we're going to see of him. Especially if he continues to grow slowly with his own line and do these collaborations that extend his reach, I think he'll just keep evolving. Ten years down the line, I could see him partnering or collaborating with a fast-fashion retailer — like Jil Sander for Uniqlo."
But Tom Kalenderian, general merchandise manager of men's at Barneys New York, doesn't need to look further than the current calendar year to predict big things for Thom Browne. "2010 is definitely turning out to be a big year for him — especially with the women's collection" coming out.
Kalenderian is referring to what could be the biggest boost to Browne's brand since the Brooks Bros. collaboration — a Thom Browne women's collection due in stores (including Barneys, Collette in Paris and 10 Corso Como in Tokyo and Seoul) in two months.
While Browne has done occasional, one-off capsule collections of women's clothing in the past, and Black Fleece already includes women's apparel, this time it is a bit larger and is expected to continue from season to season, another benefit of the backing by Japan's Cross Co. (itself a manufacturer of women's apparel).
The first pieces in the men's-inspired women's collection are focused on jackets, trousers and outerwear in gray flannel and navy cashmere, and the small collection is expected to expand in successive seasons.
In other words, Thom Browne and his short pants aim to be with us for the long haul, and his Paris space odyssey was evidence that when it comes to the clothes — and the stagecraft sizzle to sell the steak — he's definitely got the right stuff.