NEW YORK, United States — Florenz Ziegfeld’s showmanship was the stuff of New York legend. How appropriate that Marc Jacobs should be staging his Spring collection in the theatre on 54th Street named for the impresario. He too has glorified his hometown in one witty, provocative, extravagant, mind-blowing fashion spectacular after another. Thursday night’s may even have been the capper.
The Lexington Avenue Armory, where Jacobs usually shows, wasn’t available this season. The Ziegfeld was a sentimental choice. One of the last of the huge movie palaces to be built in the US, it’s now losing money and under threat. When Bette Midler revisited the disappearing landmarks of her life in New York for a recent BBC documentary, the Ziegfeld was on the list. She was back there for Marc on Thursday night to hear him recall the time he sat through seven consecutive screenings of Milos Forman’s movie version of Hair. And didn’t the feel of that film pop up in a Jacobs show somewhere down the pipeline?
That ability to evoke other times and places and people, the more arcane the better, has always coloured Jacobs’ personality as a designer. He’s the man who puts the “cult” in culture. In his new collection, for instance, there was a recurring photoprint of opera diva Maria Callas, but, such are Jacobs’s trains of thought that you couldn’t be sure whether it was Callas herself he was acknowledging, or whether he was making a convoluted reference to the original photo’s famous appearance in Diana Vreeland’s iconic fashion memoir Allure (Jacobs supplied the foreword for that book’s 2010 reprint).
In fact, you could lavish the adjectives “legendary” and “iconic” all over Thursday night’s presentation. The big band blast of the Brian Newman Orchestra was so huge and manic that it was a reminder — for these ears at least — of Glenn Branca’s electric guitar symphonies. Yes, they were legendary, and Jacobs would surely have encountered them in his nights at the Mudd Club.
Such aural extravagance was met and mastered by the clothes. Everything seemed outsize. “It’s more theatrical because we’re in a theatre,” Jacobs said succinctly. There were thirty styles of shoes, acres of sequins, Norma Shearer shoulders broadened, Betty Grable shorts shortened, floors swept with peignoirs and red-carpet-ready gowns lifted from Hollywood’s Golden Age. This being the Ziegfeld and all, the show business echoes came fast, furious and gorgeously gilded. But there was also Saskia De Brauw in a chambray jean jacket, and a red, white and blue cowgirl suit that had Dale Evans written all over it. Pure Americana. And wasn’t that Jasper Johns’ iconic stars and stripes painting reproduced in cloth? Or J.Y Eyerman’s equally iconic 1952 image of an audience in 3D glasses, from legendary LIFE Magazine, here printed on jeans and a skirt? Dissect the 61 looks and a fascinating conversation between high and low, glamour and grunge emerged. His signature collection has now absorbed second line Marc by Marc Jacobs. “Two different shows as one,” Jacobs clarified. “Expensive jacket, reasonable shoes.”
But such common-sensical concerns will receive their due in the showroom. On Thursday night, all we needed to do was lie back and surrender, Dorothy. “That’s entertainment,” Jacobs gleefully declared. Bigger! Better! Bolder!