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Still the showman, Thom Browne stages an elegant extravaganza

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When designer Thom Browne left New York Fashion Week four years ago to start showing his brand in Paris, it left a hole in the New York calendar. No designer tells stories with their clothes the same way, creating fashion shows that are more like elaborate theatrical productions.

Never content to simply use his wares on a regular track, Browne has long created intricate and mystical universes, often evoking centuries past: a strange cathedral, an operating theater of an 18th century hospital, a tiled swimming pool filled with bathers. And his characters often seemed to come from another planet.

Returning to New York this season, although temporarily, he stuck with that tradition, putting on a Saturday night show that told the story of a big old house, a magical garden and statues coming to life.

He said he wanted to focus his spring 2022 collection on American craftsmanship. Her collection explored classic suits with twists like missing pieces, asymmetrical sleeves and various skirts for men and also featured women’s tulle designs in the trompe-l’oeil style (literally, fool the eye.)

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Among the guests were famous Brownes fans: NBA player Russell Westbrook, wearing one of Brownes’ iconic skirts; actors like Dan Levy, Hailee Steinfeld and MJ Rodriguez; and skier Lindsey Vonn.

As guests entered a dark theater space in the far west of Manhattan, they gathered around a huge rectangular garden in the middle of the room. Before the show started, Browne emerged to ask for a minute of silence in remembrance of September 11th.

Browne has made a name for himself creating men’s suits, distinctive shrunken suits, LeBron James’ favorite, or more recently skirt suits, like the one worn by Levy at the Emmys. But he’s also known for his couture-level designs for women. Her huge quilted and feathered gown for Cardi B at the 2019 Met Gala took 10 people to just hold her train.

There were more minimalist designs on display on Saturday, in a show Browne called a tribute to American designer couture and athletic wear. It opened with a couple of cyclists with 19th century style horse heads biking around the room, nothing too unusual for Browne.

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In a large and beautiful house in the center of a beautiful garden, intoned a narrator, an elderly bachelor couple had withdrawn from the outside world. But over the years, the garden had been forgotten. Until, a beautiful moment when it came to life.

The men came out wearing a series of coats or capes of gray suit elements, long and short, with skirts and pants of different lengths and styles. Some jackets had a short sleeve and a long sleeve. One model wore the waist of her skirt by her shoulders. The models had silk flowers in shades of gray affixed to their heads, and they wore capes of the same flowers.

Then came a series of sleeveless clothes in the form of a shirt, also in shades of gray. Then, suddenly, colors: creations in tulle in shades such as pink, red, purple and blue.

These were supposed to be the statues as they were originally painted. The art of trompe l’oeil, Browne wrote in his exhibition notes, with each sculpture created with hundreds of individually cut pieces of tulle, hand-sewn in matching layers to mimic highlights and shadows.

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