stood at about eight feet tall on Sunday, two feet taller than I’m generally accustomed. The Thom Browne show in Paris was so packed that, to get a view over the sea of heads (I was assigned to stand rather than to seat), I chose to perch atop what I soon learned was a speaker, which caused my feet to vibrate for the entirety of the show. It jiggled my late night jet lag away, while the collection itself, a little more subdued for Thom Browne than usual, woke me up from the day’s rainy malaise and confirmed a few things I already knew:
1) Thom Browne is a creative mastermind brilliant weirdo and it must be so fun to live inside his head.
2) He’s a true, absolute craftsman of design who creates at a technical level that far exceeds the norm — and remember that this opinion comes from an indirect runway vantage point.
And 3) Fashion week, especially Paris itself, is wild. Imagine: at 8:30 p.m. on a Sunday, hundreds of people pressed their shoulders and sides together to watch ghostly models walk around in sculptural, at times unwearable clothes — including a skirt shaped like a pinecone with what looked like breasts cast asymmetrically across it — then oohed and ahhed. It’s just all so ridiculous when you stand back from it.
Most of us won’t wear these clothes. We may buy the sweaters, the shirts, the parts of the line that are hyper-commercialized, but not these pieces of art (and they are art). They aren’t created to be practical; they’re created to inspire. They’re created to advertise on behalf of the brand so that you respect the name and buy said sweater, but maybe most importantly, this kind of artwork and production is meant to establish a designer among the immortals.
There aren’t too many names, in the grand scheme of things, who can claim immortality. Here in Paris, it may feel like every artist and architect who had residency became a demigod because so many live on in museums and monuments, but the reality is those are the outliers. In fashion design specifically, many of the few big labels that once were, still are: There’s Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino. That’s out of hundreds of thousands of designers. But they can’t be the last ones, can they? So who will be the next?
Is Thom Browne gunning for it?
Why not? Why not try to make something, say something, do something that truly lasts? I know I understand this impulse. It’s why I get frustrated with the internet: because it makes words feel so ephemeral. As a writer online, you labor, you stress, you hit publish, and then, hours later, it’s on to the next. Where’s that leather-bound substance to hold between your hands, to gather dust and be passed down and live on, to be oohed and ahhed over?
Yesterday, I overheard an industry colleague make a throwaway comment in response to his friend’s fashion week panic. He swept his arm in the general direction of show venue, saying something to the effect of: “None of this is important, ultimately. It feels important, but in a few more days, everyone will leave and life will resume and we’ll go back to New York. Sure, it’s our job, our livelihood, but does it really matter?”
Welcome to existentialism 101, I know, but I haven’t stopped thinking about it. Fashion does not save lives — not in the literal sense. But for some, it can give life, inspire, offer purpose. Look at the Comme des Garçon effect: To Rei Kawakubo fans, Comme is church.
Like traditional art, great fashion can shake up the inside of a living, breathing person. Thom Browne did not do that for me last night — all shaking was due to the speaker I stood upon — but the show reminded me that it can, and that for some designers, that’s the ultimate point. The care with which Browne crafts these clothes makes it so obvious that to him, this matters. I’d bet the story he’s telling connects to a much larger body of work that’s been in the making for longer than he’s been showing. I think what he’s building isn’t so much a brand as it is a monument.
This inclination to make something that lasts is, at its most basic level, human nature. As someone who used to write her initials on the sidewalk every time I spotted wet concrete, I get it.
Feature photo by Victor VIRGILE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.