02/11/2013 08:13 EST | Updated 04/13/2013 05:12 EDT

Thom Browne's twisted fairy tale plays out on fashion week runway

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Thom Browne might have caught mainstream attention last month as the designer of Michelle Obama's inauguration-day outfit, but no one has to worry that Browne is going mainstream.

His runway show at New York Fashion Week on Monday was the first-ever for his women's collection, although he had done less formal presentations for the last few seasons.

As soon as guests walked into a Chelsea loft, they knew they were seeing something unusual: Blindfolded male models with their hands and feet tied in blood-red strips of fabric lay on metal beds alongside the catwalk. Scattered around the scene were full-size evergreen trees and faux snow, and the music sounded as if it were being played in a haunted cathedral.

And when the guests were leaving, they were buzzing that they'd seen the show closest to couture that New York has offered in many years.

"It was wonderful!" gushed Valerie Steele, chief curator at The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She said she is a fan of Browne's (of shrunken-suits-for-men fame), but the combination of Goth Victoriana, a perverse fairy tale and 1950s housewives might be his best offering yet.

The palette was entirely black, white, grey and red. The finale gown, surely meant to leave a provocative impression, was a tornado of red, worn by the only black model. All the others were not only white, but their faces very powdery with doll-like red lips and a dot of colour on their cheeks.

"You feel like at Fashion Week, you've seen everything before. This was completely new," Steele said.

The refrigerator-box shoulders, tattered lace, melted roses and big bustles certainly haven't been the norm on other designer runways during the previews of next season's styles, but, actually, there were a few commonalities: a patchwork of herringbones and plaids, blown up and shrunken to all different sizes; stiff body-armour dresses; peplums; and a heavy emphasis on outerwear.

Maybe there was even something for Mrs. Obama to add to her closet.

When it came time for Browne to take his bow, he moved so quickly that he almost lapped the models who walking slowly to accommodate their complicated clothes.


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