Thom Browne’s Spring/Summer 2020 show opened up with an instrumental tune that perhaps only a certain percentage of the population will remember. It was the NBA theme song that played on NBC throughout one of the league’s golden eras, the time of Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Magic Johson, and announcers Marv Albert and Bob Costas.
It gave a bit more context to the sportier showpieces that characterized the designer’s latest collection—seersucker footballs and basketballs, seersucker football helmets, and accessories like backpacks and brogue shoes that transformed all manner of sporting balls into extreme fashion pieces.
That the theme progressed into the “1812 Overture” further reinforced Browne’s initial idea. It was a 1772 garden party hosted in by Monsieur Baun, portrayed by the talented James Whiteside, principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre. Whiteside, clad in make-up and a seersucker tutu topped with a sportcoat and tie, wowed with his choreography in the show’s opening act. Models were clad with trompe l’oeil representations of the looks they were wearing underneath, shedding their topmost layer in the sweltering heat to reveal the clothing underneath.
On a surface level, there’s something to be said about the undressing of masculinity. But it would be a bit too on the nose to talk about Browne playing with notions of gender norms here. Rather, in 2019 that’s just already what the conversation is. This was just Browne’s way of having fun with it.
Perhaps then, it was more about the similarities between ballerinas and hulking football players. Both require a tremendous amount of strength, and both take an equally tremendous toll on the body. And there’s an exorbitant level of grace and discipline required for dancers to arc their feet in order to hold an en pointe stance, just like how wide receivers have to master speed, athleticism, and balance in order to make near-impossible catches. Maybe Browne wasn’t addressing how different these masculine tropes are, but highlighting how the uber-jock and graceful ballerina can be the same person.