The show, staged in an airy theater in Manhattan’s far west, began with two huge doors opening into an imaginary shop. A few shoppers entered in tweed and large stovepipe hats, a vaguely 19th-century look. One group carried an extra-long “Hector” bag together, with three sets of handles.
“New York, where you come to find yourself,” the soundtrack announced. “A lifelong search, a lifetime of questions…finally and completely answered.” The “Teddy Talk” was beginning.
The speaker or “chief bear” was dressed in a cropped Browne gray flannel suit, but with a teddy bear-themed hat and sheepskin gloves and platform boots. Via the soundtrack, he told his bear-filled audience about his favorite New Yorkers who had been lost, until they came to this store, “to find themselves.”
A procession followed of 25 smartly dressed adults, women and men in various tweeds and flannels, but with classic looks brightened up in bright colors – red, white and blue trim, or sometimes gold and green. Their hair was styled in dramatic topiary-like creations amounting to breathtaking modern sculptures. But the fantasy element was yet to come: a second procession of 25 more models, each a “toy version” of one of the previous 25.
These human toys had smudged makeup and exaggerated features. The toys they represented were old school, like Slinkys, those classic colorful alphabet blocks, or jack-in-the-boxes. Every “adult” element was exaggerated – sometimes literally blown up to fantastical proportions. The accessories were particularly whimsical, especially these alphabet block shoes – literally piles of blocks that, it must be said, were navigated better by female models than by males.
In the front row were recent Grammy winner Jon Batiste, in a plaid Browne suit, and actor-musician Leslie Odom Jr. in a set of cream-colored shorts, among others. Vogue’s Anna Wintour, three days away from the Met Gala she is directing, was alongside Andrew Bolton, director of the Met’s Costume Institute and curator of the exhibition to be launched by the gala, “In America: An Anthology of Fashion “. Bolton is also Browne’s life partner.
The highlight of the sartorial storytelling was a “reunion” of the two groups, when the adults and their toy versions returned, then turned to face and actually talked to each other, laughing and smiling.
Models laughing and talking on the catwalk? It was perhaps the most unique element of all. “Finding your true self,” the speaker intoned at the end. “Unique. Authentic. Confident. Always be true to yourself.