Earlier this week, a post on the Marc Jacobs Instagram account showed Marc Jacobs the designer blowing out birthday candles in his office, celebrating his label turning 40 this year. It nearly went viral because the candles were so plentiful that they created huge flames, billowing upwards and fanning outwards to the point where Jacobs had to grab his logo tote bag–an accessory you now see everywhere on the street–next to the cake and run out of the room. Was the fire real? Was it staged? Is everyone okay? It was hard to tell. Jacobs kind of resembled a wild little boy in the clip while blowing furiously at the fire and skittering away from the danger. It was a small reminder that so much of this man’s magic touch, both in terms of technique and branding, relies on his inherent sense of humor, his love of childlike play, and his unbridled, outsized vision.
Cut to Friday night at the Park Avenue Armory where guests were gathered in the dark waiting for Jacobs’ latest runway collection show to start. It was difficult to see people, but the space itself felt both serene and exciting, like something huge was brewing and soon the proverbial curtain would be lifted. Historically, he has always been American fashion’s most prolific showman, after all. At the start of the runway was a giant folding table and chairs set, which from far away in the unlit Armory looked like set props from the 1989 Disney movie Honey I Shrunk the Kids, but was a sculpture by the late artist Robert Therrien.
The runway began to clear as everyone took their seats and at approximately two minutes past the hour of 6:00 PM, bright lights flashed on and illuminated everything and everyone. Some jolted a bit and others rubbed their eyes. Soft piano music played and the models, all wearing messy makeup and bouffants bigger than the egos of Truman Capote and his Swans, began to emerge from backstage and walk underneath and through the sculpture. They moved like stiff paper dolls, some with arms stuck straight in front or in back of them, and were dressed in clothes with exaggerated proportions made to look like they were stuck onto the bodies, unbendable and unbreakable even if you could see some of the seams and the pulled pleats.
It quickly became clear that Jacobs was not going to give us a walk down memory lane. This wasn’t about his greatest hits and it wasn’t about revisiting his design D.N.A. Well, maybe a little with the proportionality and the attention to the sartorial banality of pieces like shorts and suit jackets. Really though, this was about perception, about wonder, as he titled the collection, and the ways in which our view of things change as we get older and evolve. As Jacobs wrote in his show notes: “By examining the memorable and the mundane, we abstract and exaggerate with a disorienting familiarity in our desire to express something naive and elegant.”
Many of the looks harkened back to the era of his childhood in the 1960s, like the four-pocket, three-quarter-length jackets, and skirt suit set, the flared sleeve gown with chunky pallietes that clicked when the models walked, and the check print pussy bow dress. There were oblong heeled-chunky Mary Janes and classic Marc Jacobs bags like the Venetia, rendered in gargantuan sizes. These were clothes that were plucked directly from the inside of Jacobs's brain and watching them come down the runway was like looking into a small peephole and seeing a dressing-up box that he, at every stage of his life and career, has gone back to at one point or another. There was quirk and softness even if the dolls moved and were dressed like stick figures. It was one of Jacobs’ most emotional moments of self-awareness and self-assuredness throughout the last four decades. As expressed clearly through this collection, he will always have the ability to be a great, big fashion legend and a small curious, rebellious boy all at once.
During the last few years, Jacobs has seen great commercial success with his line Heavn and his aforementioned tote bags and other accessories. The runway collections, which are shown once a year off the calendar (New York Fashion Week officially starts on February 9th) and only available through special order, are vehicles for Jacobs’ unfiltered creativity. He knows how important this is in terms of his body of work, but also for his sense of self. These collections are what fulfill him and what keep his eyes wide open even when the years of his career-launching Grunge collection for Perry Ellis in 1993 or his introduction of ready-to-wear at Louis Vuitton in 1997 are far in the rearview mirror.
There was no show finale, but Jacobs did come out momentarily for a bow. It was almost too quick to register because as soon as he arose, the lights, just as they flashed on, took a blink to go dark again. With this latest collection, Jacobs certainly wasn’t trying to extinguish any flame. He did what he always does: he left us full of delight, wondering what he’ll do next.
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