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At Marc Jacobs, Vive La Revolution

The designer’s latest outing could be read as a sullen celebration of the revolutionary impulse, writes Lynn Yaeger.
Marc Jacobs Autumn/Winter 2023.
Marc Jacobs Autumn/Winter 2023. (Getty Images)

NEW YORK — Faster than Wagner troops on the road to Moscow, the Marc Jacobs army charged down the grand hall of the New York Public Library, spun around exactly once, and then hightailed it to the murky regions backstage from which they had so hastily emerged.

The show started at exactly 7:30; whether it ended at 7:33 or 7:34 is in dispute. But by 7:40 you were out on the library steps, confronted by protesters shrieking that Marc should not use fur. The fact that there was not a single tuft in the show, or in any of Jacobs’ collections for many years now, did not dampen their fury.

But this was only one incongruity of the evening, which, in its determined brevity, seemed to inevitably give rise to certain questions, such as: what are we meant to make of a spectacle that lasts less than five minutes? With the world so fraught and terrifying, why are we even here, and what are we in search of?

The first look on the first harried model was an abbreviated ensemble that seemed to owe something to Minnie Mouse — I mean this in a good way — and was accessorised by a crimson scarf dangling from the neck. If you were groping for meaning, you might notice that this foulard was reminiscent of the red ribbons women wore during the French Revolution to express solidarity with those who had been executed during the Jacobins’ Reign of Terror.

In fact, Jacobs’ show could be read as a sullen celebration of the revolutionary impulse. Here were many teeny tiny black ensembles — Are those shorts? Are they suits? They whizzed by so fast! — and a few outliers including a black-and-white striped tailleur and a Kelly-green satin slip. If there was nothing exactly wrong with these clothes, if they were sexy and fun, it was futile to pretend you hadn’t seen it all before — these scrappy outfits were just the sort of thing that once excited the gangs of New York that Jacobs so fondly remembers, those kids who shopped at Trash & Vaudeville on St Marks Place, and idolised Television’s Tom Verlaine, and drank egg creams at Gems Spa and ended up at 3am at Dave’s Corner on Canal Street.

The grandchildren of those night crawlers were out in full force at the Gay Pride parade in Manhattan last Sunday, brandishing the tropes that continue to seduce Jacob’s imagination. If you wanted to see a transparent chiffon blouson or a scarlet patent miniskirt unabashedly gleaming, there was no reason to wait for Jacobs’ mini-show — you needed looked no further than Washington Square Park.

Curiously, the show notes were not written by an actual person but instead came courtesy of Chat GPT, and the Bot offered its “thoughts” in the past tense. In uniquely stilted prose, this opus read in part: “The Marc Jacobs fashion show mesmerised its audience with an awe-inspiring fusion of masculine tailoring and feminine elegance. The tailored suits designed exclusively for women challenged traditional gender boundaries… demonstrat[ing] the designer’s commitment to pushing boundaries and redefining beauty.”

But those kids in the park already knew all about redefining beauty. Unlike the sylph-like mannequins on Jacobs’ runway, these revellers were magnificently diverse in shape and size. Resplendent in their pleated miniskirts and gossamer camisoles, crocheted panties and star pasties, rainbow-tulle tutus and sequin fringe, they paid no mind to whatever sex they were assigned on their birth certificates. They certainly didn’t need a Bot to tell them about traditional gender boundaries.

Is it any wonder that Jacobs was hell bent on capturing their youth in a bottle, if only for four minutes?

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