Opinion: What place does mental health have in fashion?

Fucked-up sets, maddening delay and couture insanity; Thom Browne pushes limits for SS14

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Photography by Lea Colombo

Thirty minutes listening to the tinkly chiming of an antique music box, as a solo light bulb in the centre of the room surged and dimmed, brought Thom Browne's audience to the brink. The room was padded and tiled and clearly set for clinical theatrics, so was this mind-fuck delay intentional?

The question that comes when sitting tense in the setting is: why the mental illness emphasis?

With so much time to think before the show commenced, the audience took note of the mummy-mannequins hanging from the ceiling by their necks. We tend to put our jaded pants on for fashion week, but suggested suicide in the context of showing clothes was unnecessary. It's a weak jab when op-eds place the fashion week circus on the same plane as global crisis, pointing feebly to the frivolity of the week's events. But in this case, it's relevant to note that nearly a million people worldwide die from suicide every year. The question that comes when sitting tense in the setting is: why the mental illness emphasis? When there's palpable tension in the texture of the dress itself - when tiny embroidered spikes suggest destruction and the silhouette of the clothes speaks to being unwillingly trapped in a shell - why the suicide dolls? Show, don't tell.

the audience was undergoing treatment, and the confused, shuffling monarchs were our own disturbed visions

During the show, the models' forlorn expressions suggested they were lost, wandering with their bags absent-mindedly unclipped, awaiting treatment at this facility, with its padded walls and passive, pearl-adorned nurses. The music was clipped and remixed unelegantly, perhaps the aural incarnation of monkey-minded thinking. It was only after the committed queens left the room and the nurses administered a cup of white M&M pills to the front row did the twist reveal itself: the audience was undergoing treatment, and the confused, shuffling monarchs were our own disturbed visions. 

But it's important, after we're shaken from our fashion week stupor, to think about inspiration, and whether the source of discomfort in this case is thought provoking or just insensitive.

It was a polarising presentation. On the one hand, Thom Browne is an accomplished designer whose clothes are among the few collections in New York finished with the handwork of a couture atelier. On the other, the show is full of  looks that are entirely unwearable. The workmanship is incredible: a hidden fur kitten nestled in the shoulder of a dress? No one else does that! And when you see the clothes that go to market, the finishings and construction are just as meticulous.

But it's important, after we're shaken from our fashion week stupor, to think about inspiration, and whether the source of discomfort in this case is thought provoking or just insensitive.

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Thom Browne SS14 Photography by Lea Colombo

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