Marc Jacobs has always been the star of New York Fashion Week. It is, however, less certain if, of late, he’s the star of New York fashion retail. If the rumour about the brand’s parent company is to be believed (that they are worried about its performance), maybe there is some belt-tightening going on at Marc Jacobs.
That could perhaps explain the show’s eyebrow-raising bare-bones presentation. There was no backdrop or props, no raised runway, and, gasp, no music. Just the cavernous interior of the Park Avenue Armory, a favourite show venue. This could have been a dry-run, a rehearsal, but it wasn’t. This was fashion’s answer to the black box theatre. To make matters more interesting, possibly tense, smartphone photography was not allowed! While the American media quickly suggested that it was “the no-frills NYFW antidote we needed”, we’re inclined to believe that it reflects the current financial reality behind the label.
So take a bad situation and make it a talking point. Why not? After all, Marc Jacobs is about talking points, even if they’re not about the clothes. Just last season, Mr Jacobs had to apologise for the use of dreadlocks on white models after so many people accused him of cultural appropriation (what about stylistic appropriation?). A Marc Jacobs show has always been known to be a huge, hot-ticket affair. To many, it is been mostly akin to a Puccini production. So for a pull-back such as this, it could be either artistic expression or budgetary constraints.
A quiet staging does not mean quiet clothes. The show was called Respect, and we immediately thought of Aretha Franklin. That she might actually wear some of the pieces in the 42-look collection reflects Mr Jacobs’s flair for plunging the past and coming up swanky. In his show notes, which the media has been quoting, Mr Jacobs stated that he was inspired by a little-known documentary series called Hip Hop Evolution. He also reiterated that he is a “ a born and bred New Yorker” and explained that “this collection is my representation of the well-studied dressing up of casual sportswear.”
And that was where the unsurprising laid. By “sportswear”, Mr Jacobs really meant the sportswear that defines American fashion, as well as the sportswear (or sports clothes) that now dominates streetwear. In this respect, he is doing what so many other fellow designers in New York are doing. As we saw them, the clothes were not inventive and the styling was stock.
And sure, Aretha Franklin’s Respect was a 1967 hit, and hip hop emerged in the ’70s and came to prominence in the ’80s, but Ms Franklin remained very much a pop-music icon through those decades. Let’s look at the ’70s then: if Good Times were to have a present-decade run, Willona Woods would be dressed by Marc Jacobs. Why, Ms Woods could be working in a Marc Jacobs store! That these were and are how black women like to wear their clothes is not lost on a generation weaned on the eye-catching styles of Rihanna and Beyoncé. These are ensembles that draw neighbouring eyes to the wearer. Or as Good Time’s JJ would say “Dy-no-mite!”
Marc Jacobs excels in creating looks, even before Hedi Slimane did at Saint Laurent. Hippy, geeky, disco, trash-glam, glam-trash, anything pre-1990s, he’s game, and, chances are, he has already got them up his sleeves. We sometimes wonder if he has spent most of his formative years in a thrift store the way some bookish types almost live in a library. Thus, typical of his collections, there were retro shapes, disco glitter, and ghetto fabulousness. Sometimes, it is not an exaggeration to say that Mr Jacobs operates like an illustrious film costume designer.
An old US Harper’s Bazaar article delighted at the fact that “a Marc Jacobs is like a college girl’s great army-surplus-store find—except that it costs $2,900 and is made from incredible sumptuous cashmere.” Does that mean his clothes are derivative? Or, worse, not terribly new? There’s no denying Mr Jacobs is a compelling stylist, adept at capturing cultural moments and putting out campy compositions. Beyond that, we leave it to you to decide.
Photos (top): Getty Images; (catwalk): indigital.tv