Last week, school boys at Isca academy in Exeter protested their school's strict uniforms rules that restricted them from wearing shorts in boiling hot summer weather by turning up to school in skirts. It was an equally hot day in Paris today when American designer Thom Browne seemed to stage a show in their support. Skirts were the story. Some models wore knee-length retro numbers that clung to the body, others sexy minis. A few models wore trousers or shorts, but all wore heels.
They walked past a pair of children’s shoes, covered in gold and cased in perspex in the centre on the runway. Each model glanced at them on their way past. Backstage Browne explained the significance, noting that a century or so ago it was totally normal for boys and girls to be dressed the same right up until they were five or six. This show was about why we wear what we wear - at what age do societal expectations begin to define what we think is for us in terms of wardrobe? These men looked great - attractive, poised, elegant. But men in skirts still jar the eye - why? That’s what this show was about.
Big questions aside, the details sung. Browne is the master of rethinking and rebooting tailoring, but here the suit had been sliced and spliced into so many different forms, more than perhaps we’ve ever seen on a Thom Browne runway. Look closely and the top halves were as interesting as the bottoms - some jackets were cropped into mini capes, others were snug and shrunken, some roomy and double-breasted, others long enough to be styled as a dress.
There's much in fashion at the moment about gender neutrality and cross-dressing. At the London shows, nearly every young designer sought to prove their status as a provocateur or maverick by putting a bloke in a dress. Browne isn’t jumping on that bandwagon. His clothes are inherently masculine and utterly conservative as they are entirely about the suit. This nod to the mood of the day was amusing and ironic for this reason - Browne was toying with the zeitgeist by looking to the history of dress and crafting something totally his own, something delightful and theatrical. And that's the point of Browne's shows - to thrill and amuse us crowds while, behind the scenes, he continues to build a giant business. This week, the New York Times dubbed Browne, 'The Most Underestimated Designer in New York.' Today, the look was a wolf in women’s clothing.