Fashion and Design

A moment: With designer Marc Jacobs

by Michelle Tay

for The Straits Times

NEW YORK, SEPT 15 — A lone white pearl rolls across an equally milky-coloured runway as a fashion model slinks past clad in swaths of pink fabric and Japanese clog-inspired footwear, and narrowly avoids tripping over it.

Seconds before, another towering sylph had paraded by in a heavily-embroidered, ruffled sea-green outfit, from which the pearl strayed.

Twenty minutes later, the designer Marc Jacobs declares of his Spring-Summer 2010 collection to reporters backstage: “It’s about the theatre. Whether you’re on the stage, or whether the world’s your stage, it’s fun to dress up.”


His show was for his eponymous label at New York Fashion Week last month, which, despite the economic gloom and doom gripping the United States, was all about putting your best face (not to mention your best foot) forward.

Just ask popstar Lady Gaga, who turned up for this show at the New York State Armory on Sept 14 wearing what Jacobs’ other celebrity-fan-in-the-audience, Madonna, describes to reporters as “look(ing) like she’s going to carnival in Venice, very beautiful”.

If anyone knows how to steer the fashion industry through a recession, it’s 46-year-old Jacobs, who has for several years now been considered contemporary fashion’s coolest, most influential designer.

It’s easy to see why.  Where other designers such as Max Azria and Francisco Costa showed sensible, pared-down classics for next spring, here was Jacobs playing peek-a-boo with volumes, colours, textures and sweater dresses that completely opened at the back.

He put his models in Kabuki makeup, ballerina’s hair buns and Aladdin pants paired with military jackets, and shoes – gasp! – devoid of the current fall season’s vertiginous heels.

Explaining his collection to Urban after the show, he says: “It’s the idea of fashion being entertainment, but still clothing. It’s about style, and not about the necessity of luxury.”

(c) Michelle Tay

As Jacobs speaks, he stubs out what seems to be his fourth post-show cigarette in a glass ashtray that a member of his staff holds out for him. Meanwhile, another staff member dabs the perspiration off his forehead in between interviews, of which he so far has had at least eight, each lasting about two minutes.

He has told a dozen reporters before you what his inspiration was, so he doesn’t have to tell you again. But he does so, sincerely and patiently. It’s hard to believe this is the same person who last year was heavily criticised for letting the masses wait ages for his fashion shows to start, only to stick out his tongue at them when he did his own turn on the catwalk afterwards.

Fashion’s It man, known for having previously abused drugs and alcohol in the 1990s and entering rehab in 2007, has clearly got his act together now. While some designers are known to work without rest in the days leading up to a show, just four days before this event, Jacobs was cool as a cucumber.

He was spotted in his boutique on Mercer Street, sharing laughs with Danish supermodel and friend Helena Christensen and his partner, Brazilian advertising executive Lorenzo Martone. He even gamely entertained photo requests from devoted fans who turned up wearing neon-coloured, big-shouldered 1980s pieces from the label’s current fall collection.

Says Jacobs, an alumnus of New York’s Parsons The New School For Design: “As designers, it’s our real concern to create things that are beautiful; that people desire. As for the show, it’s our duty to entertain and to make people question what they saw last season versus this season.

“That’s what we’re here to do – to make clothes that are fun to wear, that people really want, not what they really need. The Gap does that. J Crew does that.”

That said, industry insiders were overheard muttering on their way out of the show: “All that heavy fabric and embroidery is not going to be cheap.”

That markdowns at stores are becoming a regular occurrence and that consumers are buying fewer expensive clothes do not worry Jacobs, who is also creative director at French luxury label Louis Vuitton. Jacobs shrugged off, in fact, the conventional idea of luxury for Louis Vuitton’s collection, channeling “travellers… the movement that came after punk (and) city utilitarianism” in the show in Paris. The result: brocade cycling shorts, pleated kilt-cum-belts, army-pocketed jackets, neon and nude camouflage slipdresses, and LV-stamped ombré-dyed denim looks with fringed edges — all topped off with gargantuan Afro wigs adorned with little bows.

“I don’t think there’s really a challenge in terms of the economy (where designing luxury is concerned),” he says, fiddling with the cap of the Fiji Water bottle he holds.

“The challenge is really the one we give ourselves to make things feel fresh and new, because we’re responsible for trying to do things that reach different people.”

Speaking of which, Jacobs calls Fashion’s Night Out, a global initiative by American Vogue editor Anna Wintour and the Council of Fashion Designers of America to restore consumer confidence in fashion capitals, “a brilliant engagement of designers and models”.

He says: “I don’t know how much business stores did, but I think it was a really great thing. Whenever the fashion industry gets together to show that they have muscle and energy to make something happen, it’s always very exciting.”

Your two minutes are up in a flash, but you decide to ask the man-of-the-moment if he has thought of what he might design next season.

His response: “No, I just finished a show, and I’m just thinking about when I’m going to bed.”

(c) Michelle Tay


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