Thom Browne's Spring 2014 "Insane Elizabethan Clowns" Meld Fashion and Theatricality

Sometimes a runway show is just a runway show, but sometimes it's a portal to another time, a transportive experience that shows us not what fashion should be, but what it could be, if we let our fantasies, demons, and nightmares bubble to the surface in all their strange beauty. The Thom Browne show was just that — an entryway into a frightening world with no apparent exit.

After fashion's elite were ushered into various white cells, complete with a single, swinging lightbulb, padded walls, and headless mannequins dangling from the ceiling, they were forced to do the unthinkable: They had to wait. The show was delayed by a painful 45 minutes, which is practically a Fashion Week lifetime, long enough to fit in several other runway shows. The tension was palpable:

Finally, a team of white-clad nurses in hair nets, teased locks, and harsh little eyeglasses traipsed out, took their places at their respective cells, and began to dole out medicine to the antsy guests (or should we call them patients?). The pills were white M&Ms. The gesture was very One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

After the guests had been calmed down by the faux-lithium, the models staggered out in powdered white faces, smeared red lipstick, electroshock hair, and hobbling, broken-spine gaits. The intricately constructed outfits were highly Elizabethan-flavored with their ruffs, snoods, beading, a crinoline cage, and a crumb-catcher neckline — in short, words you may not have seen outside of history books. (A heavy theme of latex, however, reminded us that we were living in the modern age, while calling to mind the confinement of hospitals.) One dress even featured spindly, needle-like protrusions sticking out of the shoulders and arms, as though the model were being tranquilized as she walked.

Chelsea Lauren/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Chelsea Lauren/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Obviously, there was nothing ready-to-wear about this show — the models were literally hobbling. This is the type of fashion that confuses people who don't like haute couture because it's weird or unflattering or impractical, while some of the people who do like couture found the show a little too "derivative of Alexander McQueen" for their taste. But whatever negative press Thom Browne's "insane Elizabethan clowns" get, at least he can't be accused of the ultimate crime: driving us out of our minds with predictable boredom.

A show like this transcends the question of "wearability" and moves straight into the realm of the theatrical, giving the viewer less of an aspirational, oh-I'd-totally-wear-that experience and more of an evening at the theater. In doing so, the show appeals to the art critic above the buyer. It's not immediately apparent how this show will translate into trends for spring. (White jackets with shoulder pads? White midi skirts?) But when the lights are flickering and a whitefaced nurse is bearing down on us with pills in her hand, do we really care?

Image: metal_magazine via Instagram