Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Fascism on the runway: il Duce Marc Jacobs dictates ladylike style

I am standing waiting for the Marc Jacobs show to start. As per usual, it's the biggest show of New York Fashion Week, filling Jacobs' venue of choice to capacity: the gargantuan and yes, genuine military-issue Lexington Armory.

In a fashion week boasting more than its fair share of celebrities, Jacobs has pulled in the biggest glitter posse so far and this fact is keeping the paps busy. They include Kimberley and Rod Stewart, L'il Kim, Debbie Harry, Joss Stone, Lenny and Zoe Kravitz and Michelle Rodriguez. Rodriguez is keeping the paps extra busy because she's decided to wear what looks very much like a police-issue security anklet to accessorise her lacy cream cocktail frock - complete with "Orwell" graffiti, all an apparent reference to the terrible injustices to which she has apparently been repeatedly subjected as the result of being DUI.

Given Jacobs' track record on timekeeping - with one of his shows famously starting over two hours late - we could be in for a long wait. "My therapist says it's very hard to operate creatively on a schedue" he told me backstage after his Marc by Marc Jacobs show last season, so at least he's having treatment for the problem.

"It's at 8.00pm so you've got time for Ellen Tracy, dinner, a massage and probably a few other things" advised one PR when I asked whether he thought was a good idea to skip Tracy's 7.00pm Bryant Park show to head straight to the Armory - with the time already 7.15pm by that stage and no Tracy show in the can.

"He issued a warning one season - about how late the show would be" said a Canadian journalist after Tracy's slick, black, 40s-meets-80s show, en route over to the Armory in a cab - one of the myriad internationals whose acquaintance one makes at these events in cabs, shows, restaurants, bars, even bathroom queues (as I had the misfortune of discovering on Monday afternoon in between Generra and Max Azria, after failing to adequately secure the door of my portaloo and coming eye-to-eye, mid-ablution, with one very red-faced fashionisto).

At the Armory entrance, I bump into Josh Goot. "Are you going in?" I asked as he walked briskly past towards the back door area, presumably about to make a vital connection. "I'm going to try my luck" he replied, grinning.

The time is now 9pm and the natives are getting restless. Some start clapping in a bid to garner Jacobs' attention. "It's so rude" whinges a bottle blonde to my left. "Are they leaving?" squeals a woman to my right, looking down at a substantial gap that has just opened up in the front row. "It's Amber Valetta - she's going off to ask someone what's happening". Clearly these celebs have things to do, places to go. Like Jacobs' afterparty. Suddenly applause erupts - the wraps come off. It is exactly eleven minutes past nine.

An enormous red velvet curtain glides opens to reveal a tableau of what appears to be the entire collection - all 56 of Jacobs' models already dressed in their single outfit for the show. This is an expensive show. Handy then, having LVMH as a backer.

The set, once again authored by art director Stefan Beckman, who designed the fantasy landscape of Jacobs' spring summer 2007 show, complete with budgie green catwalk over a "river" of after-dinner mints in their shiny wrappings, features a white, period-style interior set, with gigantic doors. It's dictator-grandiose and quite impressive - although vaguely reminiscent of Lanvin's autumn winter 0607 show this time last year at a beautiful old Paris theatre, which was decorated by an oversized chandelier and single, uber door ajar centre stage - not to mention the staging of Christian Dior's haute couture SS07 show last month.

Kitted out in fedoras, gloves and holding boxy ladylike handbags and clutch purses, the models look like they are headed for the Kentucky Derby. Or, at one point, I think to myself, they've just stepped off the 1980s set of Dallas. It's incredibly lady-like, bourgeois and delivered in a crisp, conservative colour palette of mostly red, navy, white, grey and bottle green.

The silhouettes are sinuous - for daytime, long, lean, trouser suits and tailleurs, knife-pleated skirts and longline cashmere sweaters, frequently layered over, not Blackshirts, but crisp white shirts with exaggerated collars - and the cloth cut close to the body. Even with the glitter shirtdresses and draped, gem-hued eveningwear, needless to say it's a radical departure from Jacobs' dark, voluminous neo "grunge" collection of this time last year and the baggy desert nomad look of his spring summer show.

The reaction is fascinating. Up on the catwalk afterwards, while waiting in line for interviews, one journalist declines to be interviewed by a tv crew because although she personally hated it, she has to wait for, she says, the "party line" verdict from the powers-that-be at her outlet. "So you're already being dictated to?" asks her would-be interviewer.

Jacobs later says that his influences ranged from "40s, 70s, 20s, 30s also 80s" and (Alain Resnais' and Alain Robbe-Grillet's 1961 film) Last Year at Marienbad. He makes no mention however of Mussolini - although I later read that he had also been inspired by Bertolucci's 1971 fascist-nosed film, The Conformist. "It was so, so.... revolutionary" snipes one journo; "that is, everything other than the collection. All that ruby red and purple duchesse satin, it's so Miu Miu, it's so Prada from last season" - forgetting the fact that Alber Elbaz also used ruby red and purple duchesse satin in his autumn/winter 0607 collection for Lanvin, which of course predated Prada's summer show by six months.

By contrast to all the bitching, the reviews in the following day's papers are unanimously positive.

"He who insists on their own creativity has no memory" says Jacobs in typical, unaffected style, channelling platitudes to all the questions - and sycophantic gushing by a couple of presenters (who don't ever seem to see a collection that they don't like, at least not while the camera is rolling).

He adds, "I don't think there's any trends here. It's just what I wanted to see and do, me personally, this is what I'd love to see girls do. I open all these magazines and see everyone in backless bustiers blah blah blah... Same clothes, different season. It has to change. The mood has to change, the spirit has to change. It's a beauty that... doesn't exist in abundance in the world".

Certainly not in police-issue anklets it doesn't. Let's hope Rodriguez checked hers at the afterparty door.

Original post and comments.


Blog Archive