Kimono-sleeved coats, embroidered koi fish, sheered mink applique of Mt. Fuji and wooden geta sandals. I’m not describing a night of kaiseki cuisine in Kyoto. In fact, this isn’t Japan at all. Over the weekend American designer Thom Browne hosted his Spring 2016 menswear show at a warehouse in the outskirts of Paris. But, clearly, Japan was on everyone’s minds.
It’s no secret that Japan holds a very special place in the heart of Thom Browne. In 2001 Browne left Club Monaco to launch his own label. But by 2010, when Browne was still working out of a tiny, appointment-only shop, his sales in Japan were rivaling his biggest success story – Bergdorf Goodman. This, in part, was due to a deal in 2009 in which Japanese apparel company Cross Company acquired a majority stake in his business. Then in 2013 Browne chose Tokyo for his first overseas flagship store. (I actually had the pleasure of meeting him last year when he was in Tokyo for the 1-year anniversary of his shop.)
Now, before you dismiss Browne’s collection as simply something “I would never wear,” keep in mind that fashion shows like this aren’t intended to present everyday clothing. Of course we’re not going to paint our face white and go to work tomorrow wearing intricate, Japan-inspired motifs on kimono suits. Fashion shows are meant to be abstract and experimental. They’re meant to push the boundaries of what fashion can and can’t do. Seeing Browne’s male models hobble down the tatami runway in wooden geta sandals looking like geisha felt particularly timely and relevant. It made me think that perhaps we’re not as far away from gender-neutral clothing as I thought we were.