Existential Questions at Marc Jacobs, or Just Clothes?

With my aluminum folding chair set on the exact opposite end of where Marc Jacobs’ SS18 models entered the Park Avenue Armory show venue — a space so large Rihanna was able to host a BMX demonstration just a few nights earlier, tiny pinpricks of color would emerge from nowhere and then slowly come into focus, one after the other. It was like being at the optometrist’s office with a nurse adjusting prescription knobs. From my vantage point, it took forever for the first look to reach my poor vision’s clear line of sight, so until the opener arrived, I looked around, checked out my temporary celebrity neighbors, stared at the shoes of my seat mates and tried to see what they were texting.

Once Look 1 was close enough, I began to take notes: A black model opened the show. Oversize orange suit. Massive fanny pack. Turban. Then the next model emerged, and then the next, as per the standard way fashion shows work. In this format — sans music, yet again — I had more time to digest each one as it lingered for longer in front of me than normal. There were less distractions before and after because of the distance, the blurring and the spacing. It forced the audience to focus on the looks in front of them. If we’re talking metaphors, it also forced us to acknowledge the discomfort of our blind spots.

I do not think Marc Jacobs was “saying something” with his set up. (He was certainly clear that this was not a goodbye.) However, it is hard to not dig deeper as an audience member. Over the past few years, the industry has received a necessary shoulder shake of a wake-up call under the glaring lights of the real world. Indulge in what can feel like vapid, unnecessary frivolity during global chaos and local devastation, and you will be chided, or at least prompted to question it. Pretend politics don’t affect you and you’ll be left out. Show a collection of clothes on all-white models, ignore the culture from which your styling appropriates, dress bodies of a single sample size, refuse to offer a sincere apology, refuse to do better, and you will be called out.

Marc Jacobs’ lineup of women this season was notably racially diverse. I am not sure what the public will have to say about his turbans but you can bet they will spark conversation. The show notes reference the one Kate Moss wore to the 2009 Met Gala, which Jacobs designed, and how Katie Grand, the collection’s stylist, wanted to “take the girls from last season and ‘turn them out.'” On Instagram stories, The Cut/New York Magazine‘s Fashion Editor Lindsay Peoples asked: “How many African and/or Muslim models were booked for this show? And I mean besides Hadid sisters because they’re literally in everything.” As it has been said over and over through the course of this industry’s transition from its once-high-on-a-pedestal position, down to earth: A fashion show is no longer just about the clothes — not that it ever really was, really, but now this message walks in blatant tandem with the clothing.

What hasn’t changed is a great fashion show’s way of altering, exploiting and magnifying your perception of what a pair of pants or a coat or a dress can be. Just as light can play tricks on your eyes depending on your vantage point, this show challenged what its audience saw, how its audience saw it, and when. The commonality is that all of us who sat through Marc Jacobs’ show had to think about something. Strangely, perhaps because the decorated models first appeared as faraway specs of dust that came in and out of focus — that is, until the end when they collided together as a combustion of color and the silence was split open by (very) dramatic music, I couldn’t get this quote from The Beasts of the Southern Wild out of my head:

“When it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me lying around in invisible pieces. When I look too hard, it goes away. And when it all goes quiet, I see they are right here. I see that I’m a little piece in a big, big universe.”

And with that, the New York Fashion Week Spring 2018 season was complete.

Runway photos via Vogue Runway; feature photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Marc Jacobs.

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  • Kristen J

    After looking through a few of the photos, particularly the evening wear, I decided this collection could be used as a modern retake on the clothes from “My Fair Lady” with Audrey Hepburn. Interesting that came to mind after reading “I do not think Marc Jacobs was “saying something” with his set up” since My Fair Lady is all about the process of learning how to speak and present yourself differently.

    • I thought of My Fair Lady as well. And Breakfast at Tiffany’s, tbh.

    • JennyWren

      Yes, looks 11 and 13 in particular.

    • JennyWren

      Yes, looks 11 and 13 in particular.

  • Greenborough

    Can we also talk about the clothes? Because Marc Jacobs is struggling with his business. No one buys his clothes or leather goods. I find this collection, like past collections, to be making fun of women. He makes them look goofy like clowns. Like he’s playing dress up with dolls. I find it very disrespectful and like he doesn’t like women.

    • Amelia Diamond

      I disagree; I don’t think he’s making fun of women at all. I think in his own MJ way he plays with proportions and odd sizes and shapes to challenge what what we find attractive or trendy or sexy or any of those things.

      • Greenborough

        I get that as a fashion writer you think he’s cool. But real women don’t. Stella McCartney plays with proportions, basically started the jumpsuit trend singlehandedly, and she actually sells clothes. She’s just one example of a playful designer that women respond to in a positive way. Real women (with money) don’t buy Marc Jacobs’ clothes. An interesting question is, why not???

        • Patricia

          Because Marc Jacobs cheapened his brand with so many secondary lines? “Marc by Marc Jacobs by Jacobs” is a meme at this point and it’s not appealing to buyers with a lot of money. Secondary lines make the main line seem less valuable (even if it isn’t), imo. While I feel put off by the turbans (and, actually, the eye makeup), I like the proportions and wild feathering.

        • Court E. Thompson

          No idea, but I’d buy the coat from the third look and the pants from the fourth look in a HEARTBEAT. But I don’t have money so……maybe there’s the rub.

        • kay

          i’ve seen versions of this look
          (khaki, mini dress silhouette with coat, gogo-ish boots, bucket hat) from his 2017 ready to wear show in a bunch of different magazine shoots and street style shots. maybe that’s not what you’re talking about, but it does seem like evidence that he’s making looks that resonate. i’m planning to wear a version of it, tho not with his actual clothes bc i can’t afford them. maybe he’s aiming for a different market?

        • Rebecca

          is Amelia not a real woman???? i didn’t know being a fashion writer made you a non-human, so wild

    • Laura

      I don’t think most of the outfit combinations at most fashion weeks are meant to be something people would buy to wear “everyday”. I think they are meant to be a form of art – like Amelia was saying “…he plays with proportions and odd sizes and shapes to challenge what we find attractive or trendy or sexy or any of those things.”. So, it’s like when art makes a commentary on something in society. The items people actually buy and wear will be a modified version of whats presented in these shows.

  • The perfect ending. I love this collection. The sounds of the clothes walking past must have been incredible in person.

  • tmm16

    I thought the ‘no music’ move was a strong creative decision. As you mentioned, Amelia, it kind of forced the audience to think in the silence, which I’m sure felt very powerful in-person (I felt it just watching clips of the show). Whether it was about the collection, MJ himself, NYFW in general whatever, it didn’t matter; the silence commanded the crowd to just think about something, and I think that’s a pretty intriguing and daring concept.

    In a world where we are so tied to our cell phones, always have headphones in, running here, there, on deadline, stressed, yada yada, sometimes we forget to do to something so basic… and just think.

    • On a much less meta note, from the video I’ve seen of the event, it also forced those watching to consider fashion and clothing using a sense we don’t usually attribute to it: sound. I could HEAR the swishing of the pants, beads clacking or the way different fabrics played off each other. I thought it was genius!

      Who hasn’t bought a pair of leather pants that look great only to hate them later because they squeak when their legs inevitably rub together while walking?

      • tmm16

        Good point! Didn’t think of that! x

  • ValiantlyVarnished

    Honestly? All this looks like to me was a less than subtle mea culpa for the lashing he got for his show last year which was rife with white models and cultural appropriation. It’s only recently that he’s apologized for it.

    • kay

      i had the same thought. i wondered if he was also saying something additional, like…idk maybe that he wasn’t going to stop mixing in elements from other cultures? he was searching for a way to keep doing that but be better about it? it definitely is a signal that he isn’t going to back away from that. what did you think about this years version? there were more non-white models but other than that i couldn’t tell if it was that different.

  • spicyearlgrey

    also the diveristy is what is REQUIRED of marc jacobs following his 2016 dreads fiasco

    • Lil

      Srsly. Did he ever publicly apologize for that? V curious to know.

      • love

        “Regardless of their origin, dreadlocks have been worn by nearly every culture at some point in time or another. Roman accounts stated that the Celts wore their hair ‘like snakes’. The Germanic tribes and Vikings were also known to wear their hair in dreadlocks.”- raging roots studio

        Seriously man I do get that but many tribes of all skin colours wore dreadlocks the origins are not strictly in recent “black” or African culture. Get some perspective

        • Lil

          In 2017, vikings are no more and dreadlocks are synonymous with Black culture.

          And with recent high profile crimes against the Black community, Marc Jacobs simply should have been more empathetic. He should’ve used more Black models to model dreadlocks instead of having the majority of them be white.