There’s grunge and there’s grunge. Deep into his contract negotiations with Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs chose to revisit the theme that years ago catapulted him from must-see wunderkind status into legendary unemployment. Whether during the design process for the current collection he saw irony or provocation in that connection, who knows?
A full 20 years have passed. Grunge is no longer the latest obsession of disaffected youth, and Jacobs, no longer young (his big 5-0 hits next month). Yet many of the same influences continue to inform his aesthetic. That said, in recent years he’s preferred not to invoke the G-word — a rare self-edit he dispensed with during a preview on Tuesday evening. “I don’t want to use certain words, but…” he said, “there’s a kind of decadent, eccentric, grungy glamour going on here.”
It proved masterful transformation of a concept — or elements of a concept — into something light years removed from its expected context. In his show on Wednesday, Jacobs veered far from the gritty, undone reality of the genre into a land that was luxe, sophisticated and refined, perhaps despite itself. And this being Paris, he worked in what he called “a dirty Left Bank feeling.” While his Perry Ellis grunge was feisty and fun (at least pre-pink slip), this was lyrical and melancholy, picking up on the wistfulness of Jacobs’ New York runway.
There, he showed under an enormous, imposing sun; here, he moved his story line inside, into a circular “hotel” constructed within the vast tent pitched in a Louvre courtyard. The wallpapered corridor housed 50 closed doors (one for each of his years, he said), which the models opened and exited. He thus turned the audience into a conclave of involuntary but insatiable voyeurs, as each “room” featured projections of hotel guests lounging and getting dressed, unaware of the scores of peering eyes. It played like a film noir jewel, its multiple leading ladies each with a mysterious backstory of her own.
And, along with her backstory, a choppy Anna Magnani coif and a fabulous outfit. As in New York, Jacobs focused on the intimate sartorial gesture, here slips, pajamas, robes de chambre. These were paired with some of the season’s best coats and jackets, worn in oddball combinations — proportions deliberately awkward, colors sometimes off.
The pieces were invariably gorgeous, the results of that happy pairing of a great talent and mega resources: a herringbone pattern made entirely of embroidered sequins; voluptuous robes lined in marabou. Some coats came in cashmere with deep borders of dégradé sequins; others, in thick silk printed to resemble English tweeds. Some details remained invisible from the runway. One fabric was hand-frayed to resemble flocking, while others featured floral prints and lace that were actually meticulously embroidered feathers. The latter came in on a pair of delicate dresses, one worn by Kate Moss, whose cinematic look added another layer of drama.
Of course, any heroine worth her Vuitton billing has a great bag. This time, there wasn’t a logo in sight; rather, Jacobs interpreted the house’s classic shapes in tony materials — croc, python, mink and hand-curled goose feathers — often finished with carved ebony or wooden handles.
The show pulsed with emotion. Lest anyone wonder how personal it felt to Jacobs, he took his bow in silk pajamas (these, in a print by the Chapman Brothers, from Vuitton’s recent men’s collection), which have replaced the kilt as his daywear of choice. Suggestive of the aforementioned decadence and eccentricity? Sure. But those are partial descriptives. Jacobs is also a savvy designer who here delivered a lineup of stellar commercial clothes.