It was September 2021 the last time Thom Browne showed as part of New York Fashion Week. More often than not, he’s been in Paris, but with his new position as Chairman of the CFDA, a slot on the calendar is part of the job description. He had a full house tonight at the Shed, and no expense was spared on the set. A fine layer of sand covered the floor and in the centre was a crashed biplane; above it, planets and stars were suspended from the ceiling. A late arriving Erykah Badu gave the crowd time to crack wise about spy balloons, but when the show got underway and a voice came over the soundtrack reading the famous lines, “it is only with the heart one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye,” it became clear that The Little Prince was the reference point.
The attraction, Browne said backstage afterwards, was “how the story says that children actually see more than adults do. That was really the separation between the more strict tailoring and the more conceptual tailoring—that the kids actually saw things more interesting. Because I like to see things like that.” Browne uses his runways for story telling—“for me the shows are pure creativity, I don’t think about the business and commerce at all,” he said—and he stuck quite close to the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry novella, which, in its way, shows how life should be lived.
An aircraft pilot and a little prince stumbled around the downed plane, taking their time, the former in a quilted space suit trimmed in Browne’s signature red, white, and blue stripes, and the latter in a too-big jacket and gold knits that matched his hair. A group of models in intarsia’d silk dresses representing the six planets visited by the Little Prince prior to his meeting the pilot emerged next. In the book, each one represents a negative aspect of society, like the materialistic businessman who prefers to count and catalog the stars rather than admire their beauty.
They were followed by the “adults” Browne was talking about, in strict but supersized tailoring, who themselves were followed by “kids” in deconstructed suits, shirts, and ties layered over precisely fitted sheaths. It was only at the end that Browne deviated from the script. The Little Prince, an idealistic fellow, goes missing or perhaps dies for his lost love, but the designer wanted a happy conclusion, and so Precious Lee assumed the form of an angel and rescued our hero from his melancholy. Together they led a procession of paired-off couples to the strains of Josh Groban singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ from Carousel.
The earnestness of the show was disarming, all the more so when Browne emerged from backstage to bring his partner Andrew Bolton a box of Valentine’s chocolates. In fashion, we’re more accustomed to irony than sincerity. We’re also used to 10-minute shows, and this one was a solid 35. If you spared Browne that indulgence and leaned into the love story, the work was undeniably extraordinary, with its lavish bouclé tweeds (a nod to Karl Lagerfeld ahead of the Met Gala, perhaps) and the imaginative ways it deconstructed and reconstructed and flipped inside out the house signature grey suiting.
Something else interesting was happening here. Browne has more or less normalised the kilt for men. Any number of male celebrities have worn them on red carpets. The shaped midi-dresses he put on all genders on this runway are something different, more provocative somehow. But maybe not for long. “My eye is not seeing men and women anymore,” he said. “It’s seeing just one beautiful world.” The Little Prince would like the sound of that.
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This article was originally published on Vogue.com.