A season ago, we were presented with what might have been one of the strongest couture season in recent memory. Houses proposed what the future of couture might look like, with standouts like Maison Margiela’s reflective techno-fabrics, Schiaparelli’s modern surrealism and Clare Waight Keller’s couture debut at Givenchy. A few weeks later across the Atlantic, Marc Jacobs picked up right where the French left off.
From the get-go, the mise-en-scene sent a clear message of fantasy dressing - ominous blue overlight and the looping violin-driven soundtrack suggested a kind of Phantom of The Opera playing out in Gotham City; an alternate dimension perhaps. The garments spoke in the same vein, taking clear 80s signatures like sharp shoulders, oversized pants and bows belts to another proportion. Heavy, upsized overcoats that nearly swept the floor were paired with supple leather pants in complementary colours, cinched at the waist or not. The Stephen Jones hats were sent down in varying brim lengths, some rendering its wearer’s faces completely obscured. It didn’t matter who was wearing it: you’d look fucking amazing anyway.
Jacob’s classic couture references felt more like an homage to a lost era rather than a derivative spin on the 80s trend – in a time where haute couture’s relevance is constantly questioned and heritage houses are sending printed t-shirts down the runway, God knows we needed this. But it also cast real aspersions to what the Marc Jacobs brand stands for today. Once, the designer had the linchpin of Louis Vuitton to underscore his importance – today, the man has to defend his own name in a market vastly different from the 90s when he started and even more different still to the decade he referenced in this collection.
Creatively, you got a real sense of how much Marc Jacobs is, essentially, a massive fashion fan boy. His throwbacks to the greats of 80s couture were lovingly blown up and dramatized beyond conventional attractiveness or sexiness – moves not unlike Martin Margiela or Rei Kawakubo’s. In fact, take a quick read at some of the Instagram captions Jacobs wrote when he visited the Martin Margiela exhibition at the Palais Galliera, proof in the pudding of the man’s respect and love for the designers around him. (Let’s not even get started on his adoration of Miuccia Prada.) There's also quote by Jacobs that is often used when writing about Margiela: "Anybody who's aware of what life is in a contemporary world is influenced by Margiela", a zinger said to Women's Wear Daily. Which is to say that Jacobs is evidently not an embittered designer clinging onto old notions of fashion. His homage to 80s glamour is more celebration than pastiche, more revelry than reverence in spirit.
But the biggest question to be raised here is how it contributes to and builds on the Marc Jacobs brand, especially in the precarious financial position it’s in right now. The truth is its sales have been flagging, and the product offering is confusing since the diffusion Marc by Marc Jacobs line was folded into the mainline, and there hasn’t been a hit bag or sell-out item in seasons.
Which makes Jacobs’ commitment to great fashion truly respectable. In exaggerating and camping up the greats of the 80s, he puts himself at risk by presenting and offering truly challenging silhouettes and a complete look that belongs more in stylized imagination than real life streets. As many problems as there are, he seems to be having the time of his life referencing Mugler and Montana – and it’s infectious. It’s a brilliant way of tapping into the venal strain of 80s fever and upping it, showing us all that he is by now a veteran with the knowledge and skill to cut garments more challenging than a generously padded shoulder – which are dime a dozen now.
So, unlike other calls to greatness in our time and age, will we rise to Jacobs’ ode to couture?
Lead illustration by Olga Koma.