A Sunday-night preview flaunted major fashion — girls awaiting fittings in enormous furry hats, Pilgrim by way of Dr. Seuss (and Stephen Jones), atop elaborate pilings of impeccably sculpted clothes in incredible custom fabrics and tricked-out (holograms, sparkly buckles) shoes. What the preview didn’t telegraph: the intense emotion and lyricism of the show Marc Jacobs would present in little more than 24 hours.

It started with perusals of advancedstyle.blogspot.com, a Web site that celebrates elder New York fashion of a certain flamboyance, and morphed into a poignant visual commentary on embellishment, self-expression, decay.  

Along the way there were major weather-induced fabric delays (snow in Europe!), the subsequent involvement of a Learjet, and a spur-of-the-moment conversation between Jacobs and Rachel Feinstein barely two weeks ago that resulted in the intriguing set she designed. “I’m thinking about broken things and Puritans and Pilgrims and kind of fake winter melancholy,” Jacobs told her. “That’s right up my alley,” she offered back. The result was a series of decaying grottoes made of paper-thin wood, their decrepit arches encompassing several staircases from which the girls would descend.

They wore stoles over coats over skirts over pants, squarish sweaters over egg-shaped dresses, fitted brocade jumpers over crisp shirts. Most looks demonstrated a shushed-up Edwardian undercurrent in their curvature of silhouette, the structure achieved through cut and construction rather than cumbersome crinolines. The fabrics proved worth waiting for: intricately wrought brocades, tweeds bonded to leather, glitter tulle embroidered with wool yarn and sequins, and on and on. Throughout, shots of color, both bold and gentle, interrupted the dominant blacks and grays.

 

Even at the sober end of the color spectrum, the prevailing abundance contrasted with the girls’ mien, slow and graceful, an almost elegiac quality to their serenity. They walked to the soulful “Who Will Buy [This Wonderful Morning]?” a ballad about savoring the bright moments in anticipation of harsher times to come from a musical about street urchins. One couldn’t help but feel the emotion. Nor could one miss the thematic progression from lots of stuff to black frayed patchwork dresses that closed the show. A statement of the beauty and inevitability of mourning from a brilliant, complicated designer no longer young? Perhaps. Or maybe just Jacobs’ chic evening alternative to sparkly mermaids. At its best, fashion leaves you wondering.

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