What has been missing from fashion for years is storytelling; among the marathon of shows, of countless interchangeable dresses and repeated trends, are few efforts to conjure fantasy. Gone are the days of Christian Dior’s shocking New Look, of Coco Chanel’s intimate presentations to naught but the most glamorous socialites, of Galliano strapping on African headdresses.
The last great storyteller in fashion is Marc Jacobs. This is striking because he is American but has European sensibilities of glamour. He is also timely, prescient and fearlessly original.
For Spring, Jacobs embarked on a historical exploration of the American woman. She was interpreted as a 20th-Century Marc Jacobs idea; from the skirt to the apron to the hat and to the pant, Jacobs evolved pieces in tandem with the rising empowerment of women in American society. He told the story of her change.
The show opened as an homage to the prairie woman, the resilient farmer of the Laura Ingalls variety. Dresses reached to the floor, hats were reminiscent of a 1920s lady gone to town, and the cinched waists suggested a burgeoning femininity. He only needed to add a basket or a parasol to complete the look. Layering was key, and what lies beneath felt special; a faint hint of shimmer beneath the hardy exterior of a woman crossing into a male-dominated, new century America.
The apron was a key motif, as were smocks and other cover-ups in varied plaids and prints and colors. He hides through styling the clothes, the garment to be produced and sold. But what is the point for today? The modern woman does not hide, as Jacobs suggests when he puts a traditional tartan over a modern embellished piece, and the collection revealed the female self-consciousness of the past.
With his arrival in the timeline to the struggle of women’s rights, Jacobs moves on to introduce empowerment with colorful blocking, the pant, strong shoulders and bareness. Hats popped in different colors, the cinching became tougher in leather and plastics and different brocades carried a lightness through patterning.
Liberation can come in a tough electric-blue skirt with a men’s oxford done for a new day: a day at work?
It can also come in a leg or a demure sexiness done with sheer fabrics. Gone are the bonnets and the brimmed hats that felt, in comparison to all of this, stodgy. It’s the introduction of sex.
Jacobs then turned to the arrival of black in American fashion; the sensible little black dress, a le Smoking jacket, a formal cocktail dress. They are now staples but in comparison to the past they look revolutionary, a woman in a suit jacket and a pant when she used to be covered in plaids and an apron. She has moved from the home to the office. The garments are self-evident, uncovered, resilient pieces.
Following the parade of plaid, of aprons, and of his nouvel noir, come Jacobs’ evening wear, a selection of Grecian dresses in soft and romantic hues that fall across the bust in different ways. The dresses look nearly 70s, as if Cher had stumbled out of Studio 54 and onto the runway, but it’s undeniably Classical. Jacobs references our future with the distant past, but how refreshing.
Overall what does Jacobs give us? He tells us a story set to the tune of the American woman's past but he does it by showing us the woman of this season and the future. Designers rarely give us such dualities but Marc always confounds us with his ideas. If only more designers felt as motivated to give us so much.