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Thom Browne debuts Paris haute couture with dramatic show at Opera

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Thom Browne marked his debut on the Paris haute couture calendar on Monday with a dramatic display of voluminous fashion in the French capital's famous opera house.

The American designer drew his audience in through the back door of the baroque monument, up dusty flights of wooden stairs to the runway set -- the middle of the stage, with the audience seated on both sides.

The curtain lifted at the start of the show to reveal a full theatre -- the red velvet seats and gilded balconies occupied by rows of cardboard cutouts of a man in a grey suit and sunglasses.

Models emerged slowly, on towering platform shoes, marching past a flock of fabric-covered pigeons and pausing under an enormous grey, fabric covered bell hanging above the set.

Some wore headgear in the shape of birds, while others had bandages wrapped around their heads, worn with elaborate grey wigs.

Browne puffed out the volumes of dresses, giving them balloon-like sleeves, and paired tweed ensembles and pleated skirts with long coats embroidered with pigeons or seaside motifs like starfish.

Browne, who is chairman of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, is best known for his signature grey suit, but he has also built a reputation for showmanship -- last fall, for example, he closed a Cinderella-themed show with Mj Rodriguez dancing in a pink Cadillac made of tulle.

The Paris Haute Couture shows run until July 6 and include fashion houses Chanel, Balenciaga and Valentino. —Reuters

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