Freed from the grind of fashion, Marc Jacobs finds tension

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Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Marc Jacobs

Two summers ago, as New York and other cities emerged from lockdowns, I spoke to a dozen top designers about how they thought the fashion industry should move forward after the pandemic. Many said he couldn’t go back to the current situation – i.e. the colossal sense of waste resulting from too many collections, including the new practice of ferrying guests halfway around the world to see a show in an exotic location. But that’s what happened. Instead of moving forward, the industry has, with few exceptions, returned to formula. Big shows, endlessly repeated brand signings, a flood of celebrities.

Marc Jacobs is one of those who have talked about breaking the pattern, and he did – out of necessity. At the start of the pandemic, his Soho-based company, which is owned by LVMH, let go of most of its runway design staff as it focused on bread-and-butter items, like cosmetics and Heaven, a line launched in 2020 and aimed at young people. The change follows Jacobs’ flagship show in February 2020, his collaboration with choreographer and dancer Karole Armitage, in which models and dancers evoked the energy of the city in their rapid movements. This show, which knocked down the fourth wall and was as straightforward in form as a track performance could get, was Jacobs in excelsis.

Photo: Marc Jacobs

Now he’s doing a totally different job than what he did in the three or four years before the pandemic. The attitude is more loose; the weirder and bolder shapes, no doubt. But I would say the main difference is that the ideas are more in touch with contemporary values, especially new notions of gender and human beauty. They also reflect the impact of social media images on style. In the past, Jacobs’ favorite references were historical fashion – perhaps above all, the work of Rei Kawakubo, Martin Margiela and Saint Laurent – and contemporary art. Think of his collaborations when he was creative director at Louis Vuitton with artists Richard Prince and Takashi Murakami. But even before the pandemic, this approach had begun to feel old-fashioned. Today, Jacobs is no longer part of New York Fashion Week. He has staged two shows at the New York Public Library – the first in June 2021 and the second on Monday evening – which reflect a post-pandemic reality for him. Although LVMH supports the effort and sees value for the rest of the Jacobs brand, the clothes are only available at Bergdorf Goodman. That may change at some point, Jacobs told me on Tuesday; perhaps a store in London or Tokyo could also carry the line. But for now, he is happy with the arrangement.

And why not? He designs some of the most interesting clothes in the rarest modern fabrics – including paper, organza-backed lambskin and plaster-coated denim – for a store that has a long reach in the demanding world. . It’s not really a new type of relationship; stores have been doing exclusives with designers since the early 1900s. And no, that won’t make anyone rich. There’s not a big enough market for pastel pink denim jackets and long skirts coated in a fine plaster sheen, but that shouldn’t put a limit on innovation either. That’s what the arrangement with Bergdorf buys Jacobs and his small team: creative freedom.

Photo: Marc Jacobs

“We are in a very special place,” he said. “I never felt like my hands were tied, but we no longer feel the burden and the pressure of creating a collection to show buyers in Milan.” In other words, one that ticks the business boxes as well.

Let’s look at what he presented the other night. Among the opening looks were loose V-neck tops and pants in pearl gray or pastel shades of green and lavender that undoubtedly looked like hospital scrubs. “They’ve become a very familiar uniform — police uniforms and scrubs,” Jacobs said. “Unfortunately, that’s how it is.” But as historian Anne Hollander once pointed out, the most significant fashion references are the ordinary – the apron, the chore jacket. Although the material of the scrubs looks like cotton, it is actually very fine leather bonded with silk organza. “It gives her that matte, clean look,” Jacobs said.

Another thing that struck me about the show was that in his press notes, Jacobs had printed a list of “materials” (canvas, denim, foil, glass, paint, paper, plastic, etc.) and of “forms” (bikini, blazer, cargo pants, corset, T-shirt, etc.). The fact that so many materials had an industrial sound was intriguing. The glass was made of jersey-glued crystal discs for a side-tied tunic over pointed wide-leg denim trousers, while the paper was Tyvek – the house’s material – used for a full evening skirt. and sparkling and shown with a sweatshirt rolled up around the shoulders and transformed into a hood. The items on the “materials” list weren’t exactly trash, but they are considered the detritus of civilization, and it was as if Jacobs had swept up the glass and plaster dust and turned it into something something elegant – albeit an elegance slightly toned down by the almost sickly soft pastels.

I shared my impression with Jacobs and he said, “When we start a new collection, it sort of unfolds. But then what happens is life. Life is what you see on the streets or on Instagram. I can’t imagine these things. I’m okay with leaving disturbing thoughts in the process. One thing he and his team have noticed on Instagram — it’s hard to miss — is the variety of sexy underwear different genders wear. Jacobs showed corsets as tops and also tiny silver crystal bras. (The tiny bras make the one Miley Cyrus wore on her February 2020 show look almost primitive. It’s another indication of how much things have changed in just a few years — and that Jacobs is sensitive to it. .)

“Everyone has made corsets,” he said, referring to Vivienne Westwood. “Vivienne was so brilliant; she is always brilliant. Her idea of ​​putting women in corsets was such a provocative act “—because it was something that male designers always did with women—” she really took it back.

In the streets of New York, lingerie is already lacking. As I walked into the library, I saw a young woman dressed in tight low-rise pants and a black longline bra with sheer inserts. Eyeballs heading west on 42nd Street skimmed her gaze, I noticed, but could anyone have been shocked? Bra girl was soon overtaken by a drag queen in sequins, then a skinny girl in low elephant bells and a white tank top. (By the way, while I was in London recently, I couldn’t help but notice how many young women were wearing beige spandex pants and a matching crop top. From a distance, they looked naked. Is it the influence of Skims?)

There’s a huge feeling right now – in New York more than anywhere else I know – of real life overriding the freedoms and imaginations of high fashion runways. One of the reasons for this delay is probably that the big luxury brands have to maintain their identity, almost like an ideology. In any case, I think Jacobs is aware of this growing gap. And what he’s done so brilliantly over the past year is abstract the elements he sees – whether it’s sticky colors or new gender norms or obsession from the digital sphere with body augmentation (recorded Monday with wigs and faces that looked cloned) – then giving them new meaning and scope through fashion.

“We went from zero to a hundred in five years,” he told me, referring to the kinds of self-expression we see online. “It’s not the digital world, it’s the world.”

And it’s kind of ironic that a major player who lost their big stage due to the pandemic found salvation in the same terrible event.

“There are a lot of things that have happened as a result of the pandemic and the lockdowns,” Jacobs said, “and one is a new kind of freedom.”

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