Fashion shows used to be ephemeral events. You had to, quite simply, be there - to see, to believe, and to experience the new up close. Not so much these days, with the democratisation of runway coverage online and the digitisation of archival photographs and videos.
When it’s at its best, fashion history can prove a fascinating resource: you see, simultaneously, how much has changed and not. This year finally sees the release of Marc Jacob’s addition to the canon: a coffee table book from Phaidon titled ‘Marc Jacobs Illustrated’. The monograph, which was three years in the making, is the first to look back on and celebrate Jacobs’ career. The American designer, who is a veteran of the business by now, is covering the rich ground of his 51 collections since the season of Spring 1993.
“It was the year when I first met, and the start of my friendship with, Sofia Coppola. It was also the year I collaborated with Sonic Youth on the video for their song “Sugar Kane.” The 1993 Grunge collection, presented almost six months earlier, in fall 1992 would be my last for Perry Ellis, where I’d been working since 1988. It remains one of my favorite collections because I’d followed my instincts, listening to the music of Sonic Youth and Nirvana. Looking at the photographs of Corinne Day, Juergen Teller, and David Sims. It started with a plaid flannel shirt I bought off a street vendor at St. Mark’s Place for two dollars. Kevyn Aucoin did the makeup and Oribe did the hair for this show, and the direction was “no hair and no makeup.” The New York Times review said that a “typical outfit looks as if it were put together with the eyes closed in a very dark room.” They didn’t mean this is as a compliment. I was almost immediately fired. “
– Marc Jacobs
Spring/Summer 1993, as it happens, was a momentous turning point for Jacobs’ career and name as a creative force in fashion. This was the infamous grunge collection for the American sportswear brand Perry Ellis. Infamous because it so inflamed critics, buyers, viewers, and the Perry Ellis board that Jacobs was promptly dismissed. Influential because it sparked, with its thousand dollar dresses paired with combat boots, ratty t-shirts, and liberal use of plaid shirting, an enduring era of grunge in the ‘90s. Kurt Cobain, once counterculture and anti-consumerist, became an appropriated symbol of fashion cool.
“Twisted goth fantasy. Oversized and elongated crochet-trimmed and embroidered sorority sweaters, as well as a reference to Kurt Cobain’s cheerleader sweater with the Bobcats logo. Legendary New York drag performance artist Tabboo! collaborated with us on the prints, patterns, and motifs for this show. The shoes and boots had extraordinary platforms and heels. Any sharp turn could lead to a fall, so the girls all had to be great walkers. Another one of my favorites—it seems I love and often revisit the dark “fallen angels” of my fashion fantasies. Incredible Marcel waves gelled into the girls’ hair, and fantastic gothic black eyes by François Nars inspired by Kiss and Tim Burton. Lady Gaga (as Stefani) modeled in this show, walking casually amongst the other girls. Marilyn Manson, Missy Elliott, Genesis P-Orridge, Sissy Spacek, and Susan Sarandon were among the many who starred in this incredible ad campaign by David Sims.”
- Marc Jacobs
“Huge lacquered straw hats by Stephen Jones, hair inspired by Grace Coddington, frizzed-out-to-there by Guido Palau, super glam makeup by François Nars. We bleached the girls’ eyebrows for an extreme seventies look. Incredible feather chokers by Lemarié. Flowers in the hair—full seventies. Inspirations included Saint Laurent and Missoni. Golden Indian summer colors of pinks, ochres, ambers, rust, berries, and plums. After this show Bill Cunningham remarked, “I’ve just seen the entire seventies flash before my eyes.”
- Marc Jacobs
There are other similar high-points through Jacobs’ career, and a number of them came from his tenure at Louis Vuitton as Creative Director of the women’s collections. Under him, the house gained fashion legitimacy, and became one of the primary innovators of the designer collaboration. Stephen Sprouse, Yayoi Kusama, Takashi Murakami, and even the reclusive Rei Kawakubo are just some of the many names that Jacobs managed to pull in to work on Louis Vuitton collections or product.
“This drawing is of me in my favorite bubble-gum-pink Comme des Garçons polo-shirt dress and my Pilgrim-inspired shoes, with Neville draped over my shoulders.”
- Marc Jacobs
Perhaps the best part of Marc Jacobs Illustrated is, well, the drawings by Grace Coddington. Coddington, who has had a career almost five decades long as a Fashion Editor at both American and British Vogue, was and has remained a champion of Jacobs’ career. Her illustrations are endearingly kooky, and work just as well on fashion as they do on her cats. The drawings in the book are punctuated by writing from Jacobs, who offers personal insight and memory on the creation of these collections. One more name to throw in the ring: the filmmaker Sofia Coppola, a close friend of Jacobs, wrote the introduction to the monograph, extolling the work, and Coddington’s and her own recollections of the various characters, moods, and looks.
Lead image: Marc Jacobs Illustrated, Phaidon; designs and commentary by Marc Jacobs, drawings by Grace Coddington, typography and book design by Takaaki Matsumoto; Fall/Winter 2018.