Staged Right

How a Master of Fashion Theater Works: NYFW Reviews of Thom Browne, Marchesa, and Michael Kors

Thom Browne served up artistry, Marchesa glamorous luxe, and a collection-spanning showroom display of Michael Kors had something for everybody.

Thom Browne by Lizzie Crocker

A German fashion editor was once baffled when I told him that Thom Browne’s womenswear shows are invariably my favorites at New York Fashion Week. Wasn’t I bothered by how his models are always made to appear so disembodied, the editor asked, like wind-up dolls or props in Browne’s theatrical presentations?

Nope. While most runway models look like miserable clothes horses (rarely do they get to show any personality), Browne’s models get to playact in his high-concept shows. And it’s not a gender issue: The menswear shows are surrealist theater pieces, too.

That doesn’t mean it’s not hard work. Backstage before the show, one of the models said she and others had been getting ready for five hours—and the hairstylists and makeup artists, all in Thom Browne uniforms, were still putting finishing touches on the girls.

But everyone was in good spirits. One of the models playfully lassoed a leather tassel whip that was woven into her hair. Others tried not to laugh as herringbone lips were placed over their mouths.

Then, they went skating. Browne’s stage-set was a pond in an historical New England town.

Thom Browne

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The first batch of models wore mostly gray, merchandise-friendly suiting: double-breasted coats in herringbone or patchwork Prince of Wales prints with fur-trimmed hems; a jacket and pleated skirt combo in a patchwork print that echoed the scenery on the wall; argyle sweaters and puffer jackets in various shades of white and gray.

Then came the colors: primary reds, greens, blues, and yellows on a striped rainbow coat or a crocheted sweater jacket. A red vest paired with blue trousers. Penguins were a recurring motif, printed on jackets and suits or rendered into bags like stuffed animals, as Browne has done with dachshunds in previous years.

The shoes—the skates, rather—were cleverly on-brand, designed to look like shirts and ties. However impractical, they were the most playful, creative footwear I’d seen all week. The same goes for the clothes.

As ever, Browne delivered a high-concept, theatrical show without compromising his sartorial craftsmanship. His collections stand as persuasive arguments that fashion is indeed art.

Marchesa by Brea Tremblay

At any fashion show, there are two kinds of people: the Haves, who have seats, and the Have Nots, who will be standing. The rich, the powerful, the organized who remembered to RSVP early—they sit their precious behinds down on their fat wallets while the poor huddled masses scrounge around the back like so much fashion steerage.

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Oh the humanity.

At tonight’s Marchesa show, both lines smelled like fancy perfume and human sweat because it was at least 90 degrees and much of the audience was wearing very spendy furs.

I watched a man in a silk robe waltz up to the front.

Security guard: Standing lines is over there.
Man in robe, horrifically offended: Do I look like I stand?
Security guard: You look like you’re going home to sleep.

Robe Man tossed his hair in disgust and dramatically joined the vaulted Seat line.

The theme of the show was Imperial China and the collection celebrated “opulence,” “luxury,” and “the empire’s appreciation for grandiose”—these are dresses for life’s Seat people. And they were all dresses. Marchesa famously makes red carpet finery—usually if a starlet is wearing a pretty dress with lots of fancy things stuck to it, it’s Marchesa.

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Tonight’s show continued on the theme. Gowns were spun of silk and tulle, bejeweled, be-flowered, and be-feathered, with marabou feather wisps and gold and lace and bows as big as the models’ faces. A few of their heads were crowned with flowers like a real-life filter.

The colors were lush—most gorgeous to me as a gorgeous chartreuse, so vivid I almost expected little green shoots to be growing from the hemline as if the fabric was a living thing.

A march of Marchesa gowns looks so rich, so seductively expensive that I found myself wanting to touch them, wanting to pop them in my mouth, wanting to put them on parade around in them. One of the dresses featured red fringe across the boobs, and in my right mind, I would find such a thing ludicrous but then, in that moment, I wanted to put the gown on and shimmy around in it for the rest of my life.

Michael Kors by Sarah Shears

The vast majority of fashion consumers don’t participate in fashion week. The reasons are obvious and manifold: how does one get invited to a show, inflicting life and work schedules, the challenging and unwearable fashions, and the rest.

Most importantly however is that for most average consumers, being on the cutting edge of fashion, frankly, just doesn’t make the cut in most people’s lives.

And then there is Michael Kors, the man, the brands, and of course the clothes. His name is one that is equally ubiquitous in the lexicon of both the high-fashion world and the constellation of mid-range markets. The name has managed to straddle different worlds within the fashion galaxy in a way that only a few others, like Calvin Klein, have. And all those worlds were on display Wednesday in a midtown showroom.

The high-fashion brand that walked the runway Tuesday was the Michael Kors Collection. And as was the fashion on show generally this fashion week, the Fall 2017 Michael Kors Collection was a love letter of sorts to the eponymous “Strong Woman.”

In the company’s sleek marble and wood showroom overlooking Bryant Park, the soundtrack of the runway hovered in the air. It was a string orchestra covering ’80s hits like Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams” and a sample from Beyoncé’s “Formation” served as a transition between songs.

The opulent line of over 50 looks was fierce and not designed for the faint of heart. Animals were abundant in furs, accessories and prints, as well as in elaborately sequined, beaded, fringed and metallic fil coupé pieces.

The luxury was palpable and the inverted triangular silhouettes of the ’80s was in full force. While walking around the showroom, this reporter had childhood flashbacks of her mother’s wardrobe: shoulder pads were compulsory, oversize patent leather belts cinched in waists, draped faux wrapped skirts formed upside-down tulip shapes, and pleats featured in almost all the trousers.

The color gold also saw the spotlight in a number of dresses and was featured in metallic thread embellishments, as well as in the heels of some exceptional boots and more softly in the earthy hues of the furs and snake-skin accessories.

The men’s line was more understated, with 12 pieces making a debut in Tuesday’s runway show. Standards like the peacoat were included and there was a modern twist of super-casual yet semi-formal luxury. A suit made of wool featured sweatpants-style trousers, a style choice that would probably resonate with millennials. Like the women’s collection, the ’80s and ’90s made a strong comeback with pleated pants, double-breasted jackets and combat boots.

Michael by Michael Kors (MMK), the lowest-end brand of the bunch, was filled with ready-to-wear items in the mode of fast-fashion: Branded purses, faux-fur outerwear, high-waisted jeans, and cone-heeled boots. The collection very much fit in with the on-trend styles for 2017, and the line was mostly united by grommets and studding, giving it a slightly garish retro feel that would’ve made 1990s Gwen Stefani proud.