Remember when fashion was fun? When banks were solvent, chapter 11’s were mostly in books and flamboyance was, if not a virtue, then at least a happy vice? Oh, for the good old days, like six months ago, or 20-something years ago.
In the collection he showed Monday night, Marc Jacobs tapped into that world, delivering an over-the-top ode to the New York Eighties that did what fashion is supposed to do: put people in a good mood. Make that a great mood. A riotously terrific mood. “It was my favorite fashion moment ever!” one editor said.
Which is not to say this was Jacobs’ best or most important fashion show ever. Compared with his breathtaking, seminal outing of last season, this one played more like a plucky romp than one for the ages — spring’s gentle pioneers, young women on a mission to better their world, banished by a parade of indiscreet bad girls ready to party hearty. Then again, one could argue the point of relative importance, because part of what fashion, at least at its upper reaches, should do is speak to its own time. And this show was perfect for now, a major designer staring down the bad times, daring them to get the better of him.
You want optimism? Pick a color and perk up.
“What? Is all black going to help the economy?” Jacobs queried the day before his show. Certainly not, so he mined his youth and early adulthood in New York, when he was forging his path as a designer and reveling in all New York had to offer, both the good and the deliciously dangerous.
Much had been made of the scaled-back show, the slashed guest list, no megaset, no marching band or Sonic Youth to amp up the entertainment factor, so Jacobs decided the girls themselves would do it all. Thus, unlike last season, and unlike most designers’ fashion shows, here he shunned a singular beauty look. “This time, the hair and makeup are the key accessories,” Jacobs said. And how: Guido Palau’s spun-sugar, cotton-candy hair swooping, sloping or sculpted high complemented François Nars’ lavishly, remarkably lacquered eyes. The result was each girl looking distinct but of a genre, like different girls at the same party. They started with relative calm, in gray sweaters that zipped this way or that over pants or a fluffed-out skirt. Then the wilder types rolled in. They wore party frocks that distorted standards, like an off-kilter bandage affair; endless amazing coats, including shocking neons; jackets and dresses with flying buttress shoulders; astrakhan ponchos and yes, high-waisted, pink acid-washed jeans worn with a precisely folded satin bustier. As for the sport of reference-spotting, some saw Bonnie Cashin in the flashy capes, and no one could miss the ode to Stephen Sprouse, Jacobs’ second recent tribute to his friend and one-time collaborator, on the heels of the celebratory Louis Vuitton collection now in stores.
Laudable nods, as this was a consummately American collection at a time when American fashion needs a powerful stamp. In fact, deliberately or otherwise, Jacobs even staged it under an American flag, positioned high in the rafters of the 69th Regiment Armory. Perhaps the flag has been there all along, but we never noticed it before.