On February 14, 2023, the Strong Suits class traveled to Manhattan for New York Fashion Week. In the morning, the students went on a guided "Fashion in Art" tour at the MET museum. In the evening, the group attended the Thom Browne Fall 2023 collection show at The Shed.
Below is a snapshot of their experience.
February 14, 2015—Valentine’s Day—I was attending a school dance in a dress I’d made myself: red satin with a glittering lace overlay to the skirt. I was inordinately proud. Little did I imagine then that exactly eight years later to the day I would be fulfilling one of my greatest dreams: attending New York Fashion Week in an outfit I’d made myself—at Thom Browne’s Fall 2023 show, no less. I think I can safely say I was the only one in attendance whose ensemble was made not in one of the coveted ateliers of Paris or Milan, but in a college dorm at Notre Dame.
I’d read extensively about New York Fashion Week and Browne’s previous collections in preparation for the day, but as I navigated my way through the throngs of fans gathered outside the venue hoping to catch a glimpse of K-pop star Johnny Suh, it became clear that nothing could prepare me for this experience. At first it was almost too much to take in at once; the downed plane perched atop a mountain of glittering sand; the cryptic ticking echoing through the misty air; the assemblage of celebrities seated in the front row—we walked past Anna Wintour and Andrew Bolton just making our way to our seats, for goodness’ sake! But then the lights dimmed and the true magic began in a procession of Browne’s newest designs. It was incredible to see the major hallmarks of Thom Browne design, such as his signature high-armhole blazers and close-cut tailoring, utterly reimagined for the new collection. My personal favorites included an otherworldly gown trailing a deconstructed suit jacket from its voluminous skirt and a series of sharp-shouldered, pinstriped tailoring with rows of tiny gold buttons down the back of the sleeves. As the show progressed, a narrative emerged: The Little Prince, retold in glittering embroidery and beautifully-tailored tweed. This was certainly not the average ten-minutes-and-done fashion show. In the end, it lasted a total of thirty minutes (I know because I took pictures continuously). After that it was time for champagne—though not for me; I’m underage—and mingling with the other guests. In between ducking out of shots of Lil Nas X and Johnny Suh being interviewed for major fashion magazines, I spoke to Queen Latifah, and in the end the class reconvened for a final photo with Thom Browne himself. As I sat in my hotel room later, looking out the window at the Empire State Building illuminated pink in honor of Valentine’s Day, I wondered whether the small girl who was so proud to have made her own dress would believe she could have such an experience. I think not.
As a theatre major with a knowledge of theatrical production, I found myself fascinated by the operation of the runway show and how the total experience was curated. The moment we entered the space for the show, we were transported to the otherworldly, childlike world of the show without even knowing what was to come. This, in turn, made it much easier to invest in the story of the show. Akin to our trip to the MET, this made me reconsider how the arrangement of space can surround a viewer in an intended story. Pieces such as the large white gown worn near the end of the show would be impressive to view on their own, even if in merely a photograph, but I hesitate to think it would have taken my breath away in the same manner as it did without the musical swell accompanying its entrance. In a larger sense, this emphasizes the power of presentation.
For most of my life, attending an event such as New York’s Fashion Week was a dream I never even dared to dream. It was not something that happens to people like me. When I found out our class had been invited to fashion week, it took me a second to process it. It was not until I walked into the venue and I found myself two feet away from Anna Wintour and Whoopi Goldberg that I realized that my hard work had paid off — and that people like me were always deserving of dreaming.
Attending fashion week has made me remember that I can dream as big as I want. During the trip I gained knowledge in fashion, business, but also in myself and who I want to be. I will forever treasure this experience — as it made me realize it won’t be my only experience, but it is merely the first if many.
P.S. I met Lil Nas X! And he liked my jacket!!!
My favorite memory - which is simultaneously my biggest takeaway - from New York Fashion Week was not an event, but rather a feeling. I have long been fascinated by the creative processes that connect pieces of literature with visually stunning runway show productions. When I saw Thom Browne bring The Little Prince to life through flannel tweed, tartan, twisted tulle, paisley jacquard, and odd purses shaped like dogs and clocks, that connection clicked for me in a way that reading or watching videos about the intersection between fashion and literature never had for me. I look back at the notes and pictures I took during the show now as I work on my current creative writing projects for inspiration. My other treasured memories were made bonding with other students in the Strong Suits class - I love any opportunity to get to know students who aren't in my year or major. We ate spicy pasta, ran through galleries in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, talked to Noah Beck, and stood on the sidewalk waiting for our new bus after the old one suddenly broke down in the middle of Indiana together - those are friendships I will cherish even beyond this pop-up class.
For 32 unforgettable minutes, my Strong Suits classmates and I entered Thom’s world. Everyone in that room knew they were bearing witness to something bigger than clothing. There’s an incredible energy that makes a fashion show so powerful, and being able to experience it firsthand is something I’ll never forget. After having the opportunity to meet them, the Thom Browne team’s inspiring creativity and kindness are qualities I hope to emulate in my own career. I’m so grateful to have learned so much from this trip and I’ll carry these memories with me forever.
I have two big takeaways from Thom Browne’s Spring 2023 NYFW show. First, is the importance of balancing familiarity with the unfamiliar. One of the cornerstones of consumer behavior is the mere exposure effect: people tend to develop a preference for things or people that are more familiar to them than others. By innovating off of the suit—a traditional and familiar Western garment—Thom’s brand is able to have mass appeal by feeling both familiar and inventive. In recognizing the suit as a core feature, he allows those uninterested in fashion to join connoisseurs in appreciation for the brand. This approach makes his brand very egalitarian. My second big takeaway is the importance of being multidisciplinary, which has been a key to Thom’s success. Not only has he successfully married business acumen with creative vision, but he has become multidisciplinary within his creativity. His Spring 2023 NYFW show was a unique combination of fashion, sculpture, and performance art. The set featured a crashed plane which was paired with aeronautic sounds to open the show. He first introduced two protagonists to the performance. This was followed by a wave of models which became part of the set, standing in place as the rest of the runway collection was showcased. Thom Browne is revolutionizing the role of the model and the runway show, creating a more holistic experience that expresses his creative vision.