We were back in the Park Avenue Armory with Marc Jacobs for the first time in three years, and what a difference between tonight’s collection and his Karole Armitage-choreographed show of February 2020. Where that one was kinetic, a performance that took up much of Armory’s cavernous space featuring models and professional dancers in smart, colorful separates with the efficiency of American sportswear, this one was almost a requiem.
The giant room was pitch dark and almost empty, save for a single row of chairs and spotlights illuminating the space in front of them. A solo violinist, Jennifer Koh, played a portion of Philip Glass’s “Einstein on the Beach.” Jacobs gave the collection a name—Heroes—and included a Vivienne Westwood quote in his show notes more earnest than irreverent: “Fashion is life-enhancing, and I think it’s a lovely, generous thing to do for other people.”
Westwood died in December at 81, and when she passed Jacobs posted a black-and-white photo of the legendary designer as a young woman. In it, she wears her bleached blond hair in spikes and a button-down stenciled with the words: “Be reasonable, demand the impossible.” At the time, Jacobs wrote that he was heartbroken, saying, “I continue to learn from your words, and all of your extraordinary creations.”
Jacobs has many heroes: Yves Saint Laurent, Rei Kawakubo, Miuccia Prada. This was an homage to the “godmother of punk,” from the top of the models’ peroxide wigs to the bottom of their platform shoes. Naomi Campbell, you’ll remember, famously fell in her platforms at Westwood’s fall 1993 show. But Jacobs has “learned” much more than that from the late designer.
The “tit tops” of Westwood’s Pirate collection circa 1981, in which she twisted t-shirt fabric into “nipples,” were reinterpreted as casual knit leotards and nipped and tucked sheath dresses. Here, the romantic silhouettes that Westwood lifted from old master paintings, with their bustles and bustiers, got a dressing down in military surplus, heavy on the cargo pockets. Jacobs recreated her signature volumes by turning a shirt into a skirt and tying its sleeves in the back, or by dressing models in upside-down jackets, hems dramatically framing their faces. A few of the models walked past with their arms crossed, pantomiming Westwood’s defiant audacity. Turn those jackets rightside-up, by the way, and you’re looking at some ace outerwear.
Long-line coats with the geometric patchworks of quilts may not be of direct lineage, but their DIY-ness chimes with Westwood’s punk ethos. They’re special pieces, not precious because of the materials Jacobs used—they actually looked quite humble—but because of their remarkable handwork.
Tonight’s show scooped New York Fashion Week’s official start by a week and a day. In the pre-pandemic era, Jacobs was New York’s main event. He’s been off the calendar ever since, showing collections that have only become more expressive—the shapes stranger, the layers piling up. This time around there was all that plus tone-on-tone crystals, crushed velvet in shades of ruby and chartreuse, and giant polka dots. Tinged with sadness, yes, but also life-enhancing.
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