“Sometimes beautiful is enough.” That was Marc Jacobs’ observation after his fall fashion show on Monday night. A lovely thought, but Jacobs got it wrong. Because the event he had just staged was much more than beautiful. If a fashion show – especially one sprung from such mundane standards as sturdy wrap coats and sensible camels and grays – can be moving, this was it.
A quizzical gentleness pervaded the atmosphere at the Lexington Avenue Armory devoid, as promised, of celebrity mayhem. Huge slabs of cardboard turned the main hall into a giant box, at the front of which was positioned a smaller raised box. To start the show, Jacobs and Robert Duffy appeared from opposite corners and ripped away the secondary structure’s brown paper sides – just like the old days, doing it all themselves – to reveal their lineup of cozily clad young beauties. (Some were models new to the house; some were kids selected from a street casting earlier in the week.)
As the girls started down the steps and onto the floor, one felt the clothes’ vintage vibe, which was heightened by the soundtrack, covers of “Over the Rainbow.” “Kind of an antimodern statement,” Jacobs said prior to the show. “I’m never the biggest Modernist in the room.” To those familiar with the designer’s early work, the mood crossed over to nostalgia, a feeling perhaps made more poignant in the aftermath of Alexander McQueen’s death.
Yet the clothes themselves were all upbeat on many levels – including the retail one. They were gorgeous, very real and as inviting as a bouquet of fresh daisies in winter. “Conservative,” Jacobs said. “I mean, it’s based on conservative.” And so it was, the cashmeres and flannels, the tan princess coats, the librarian sweaters, the mitered stripes, the snappy three-piece suit. But mundane doesn’t have a prayer chez Jacobs where, the designer says, “We play around with it.” And so, he and his crew extend here, contract there, laminate, plasticize, embroider, sequin, swath in fur and otherwise handily distort the daylights out of bland, reworking it into the stuff of glorious fashion.
So stunning in its quiet beauty, this collection was 180 degrees removed from last fall’s wild Eighties cacophony. But the design process remained constant. “Everything is a celebration of something, whether it’s beige or Day-Glo yellow,” Jacobs said. “It doesn’t have to be a thing. You can make a thing out of anything you’re passionate about.” A brilliant vision and guts help, too.