Marc Jacobs’ American spirit has pervaded his work of late. Last September he bogarted the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York for a dramatic spectacle that celebrated America, in its red, white and blue glory with spangles and banners. That show was a mixture of things—Warholian, Jacobs glam at its finest, glam rock, the 70s. It was a powerful statement that conveyed to the fashion industry that Marc Jacobs is New York’s finest showman, and New York’s best designer.
The aura of the Spring 2016 collection was breathed into his Fall 2016 collection this February. There were similar shapes: large, round skirts. In all, it was an amplified, gothic reimagining of the season before. “The ghosts of New York”, Beetlejuice, his gothic collection for Perry Ellis, Lady Gaga! There were references galore to American culture, those being the most notable points. There was also 19th century dressing, looking at those crochet accents—you could imagine a noblewoman perched on her veranda or tending to bucolic pursuits. His distinct character could also belong to an American football stadium, where one could easily imagine a supporter wearing one of the variety jackets (I detected whiffs of Raf Simons).
For his Resort 2017 collection, Jacobs collaborated with MTV—former champion of music videos, now home to shows about teenage pregnancy and motherhood, identity fraud and heartbreak, debauchery and chauvinism—ahead of the MTV Video Music Awards. Jacobs looked back to the beginnings of the VMAs, its attitude and sensibility rooted in the 80s. The show—not to be dismissed as a filler collection—was stuffed with influences, from the dance floor to Studio 54 and American sportswear.
To contribute to his litany of American reference points, Jacobs delved further into the culture of his native New York. The rave girl, there she was, walking along the extended stage at the Hammerstein Ballroom, with her platform heels and psychedelic dreadlocks. She wore encrusted bum shorts and jackets with pronounced shoulders. There were leg-o’-mutton sleeves and dainty lingerie-inspired dresses, metallic leather jackets with fur accents, extensions from the past three collections with oversized cardigans and 19th century grandeur. Models had thigh high socks too and were excessively accessorised, if all that wasn’t enough to process.
Club culture is always a fascinating inspiration. Charles Jeffrey’s Loverboy in London is looking to the nightclubs in Dalston, where attendees daub their faces in paint and dress in elaborate costumes, not for the fainthearted. You have many designers in New York who align themselves with the debauched opulence of Studio 54—Donna Karan, Diane von Furstenberg, Michael Kors. Those examples are extremes, polar opposites even; this Marc Jacobs collection is geographically situated somewhere in the middle ground of the club culture map. There is the mixture of high-low—literally, his business has now merged Marc by Marc Jacobs with his mainline, offering a large price range. On a stylistic level, putting platform snakeskin boots with simple denim skirt and a cropped, suede jacket, alongside a frothy pink nightdress with frills and sequins displays the different price points.
Clothes-wise, this was a strong collection. Jacobs strengthened his message of positivity in times in political uncertainty, what with the looming presidential election.. The clothes of late have celebrated the best of American culture—in fact, a whole exhibition should be devoted to Jacobs portrayal of American history through the medium of fashion.
But that was the good side to the collection.
As with many collections this day, there was an underbelly, a dangerous reference. Mentioned above is the candy-coloured dreadlocks the models wore (which brought them to a gobsmacking 7ft+). Within minutes of the show’s completion, cultural appropriator headlines were emerging.
Dreadlocks are symbol of the black liberation movement. Taiwo Ogunyinka captures the two possible reasons why people would wear dreadlocks in his article for The Tab. “If you truly cared for black people and not just our culture you wouldn’t want to wear dreadlocks.” He continues by saying, “If you wear dreadlocks because it ‘looks cool’ then you’re still perpetuating white privilege and you’ve chosen to be ignorant of the significant contemporary history.” There is also the fact that the show featured few black models, which didn’t help the situation.
I understand and respect that Marc Jacobs is one of fashion’s last provocateur, someone who thrives on creativity and newness—his recent collections have been searing. I also understand that there is a fine line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation but when Jacobs defensively responds to the accusations with, “funny how you don’t criticise women of colour for straightening their hair”—you can’t help but roll your eyes and think how brilliant this show would’ve been if it wasn’t shrouded in controversy and ignorance.
Photo Credit: voguerunway.com