Existential Questions at Marc Jacobs, or Just Clothes?
09.14.17

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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