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Friday, September 12, 2008

New York Fashion Week: Thom Browne & Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Suleman Anaya is entertained and educated...

The day after Roger Federer won the U.S. Open, it seemed tennis had been on the mind of Thom Browne all along. For his spring collection, a grassy mini-court was planted in the Exit Art space on Tenth Avenue, and the Grand Slam theme was everywhere, from the racquet prints seen throughout to the overgrown ball-boy looks that opened the show. About that show: It's hard to wrap one's head around a Browne collection. Is it entertaining? Endlessly. You chuckle, gasp and oooh. Is it the future of menswear? That's trickier and a little disturbing to answer. While it's hard to imagine anyone other than a handful of fashion-obsessed gay men showing up to work in any of Thom's getups, it's refreshing to see a designer live out his outlandish fantasies when nearly everyone else plays it safe. And that subversive undercurrent we have come to appreciate from the designer prevailed again this season, in touches like white-painted toenails and trousers worn hip-hop style with perky boxer-clad bums. The pièce de résistance? Well, there were a couple. A peplumed silver suit with a tutu-esque petticoat made from oodles of tulle certainly qualifies, a kind of descendant of Nicolas Ghesquière's fall '06 collection for Balenciaga. And of course the finale wedding dress that by now everyone's heard about. Bizarrely, this finale was set to Richard Strauss' bombastic Zarathustra, which then faded into the title song from the Sound of Music. Okay, so the hills are alive, but why is it that you always leave a Thom Browne show feeling horny and confused?

On the other end of the spectrum, stimulating minds rather than loins, was yesterday's Slow and Steady Wins the Race presentation at Saatchi & Saatchi gallery. In a week where, for half of the shows, you might as well have checked your brains at the door, you can count on S&SWTR founder and designer Mary Ping to deliver something cerebral. This time, she collaborated with young local architecture firm Bureau V to create an installation called Perfume Counter / Department Store / Wedding Dress. The result, sort of a stripped down proto-Barneys, is worth the trek to Hudson Street near Houston—the opening reception was a high-point way to end my fashion week. The installation's booths showcase a summary of the label's seven years with highlights from all the collections to date, including sunglasses, tuxedo jackets, shoes and even housewares, all priced—as always with Slow & Steady—at a symbolic $100. I fell in love with the perfume counter, filled with 100 exquisite and rare vintage perfume bottles that Mary has collected, some of them found on eBay. I got a personal tour of the "store" from the designer, cute as ever in a cream Margiela blazer that made my mouth water (the two share a penchant for de- and re-constructing garments). She told me about the exhaustive research that went into the creation of a wedding dress on display, also—unbelievably—priced at $100 and stunning in its simplicity. She also lamented the New York Public Library's limited holdings when it comes to the anthropological history of bridalwear (Martha Stewart-type tomes, on the other hand, are plentiful) and how, in medieval times, brides wore blue because it was the color of purity. Who knew? I left the gallery enlightened, and it was hard not to think that Thom's man-bride had been a mere tease compared to Mary's intellectual hand-job.

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