As New York Fashion Week came to a close on Thursday with a pared down Marc Jacobs collection, it was fair to conclude that this has been a season for change. Ralph Lauren continued to make a strong case for the see-now-buy-now approach to runway shows with his orchid extravaganza. Kanye West had a successful show that offended no one. And Jacobs did something completely out of character by eschewing the showmanship of recent years in favor of a runway that was as bare as the floor beneath it (and the resulting emptiness of his usual venue, a cavernous uptown armory, was especially haunting).
Dissatisfaction with the status quo has become the rallying call of our times, and as a result there is much discomfort in just about every elements of our lives. In fashion, that has played out with decisions by designers like Jacobs to reconsider the importance of runway spectacles. Tired of watching his audience watching him through the lenses of their cell phones – every editor and retailer is under pressure to maintain a social media feed during the shows – Jacobs decided to scale back. He invited fewer people (little more than 300) and lined up chairs in two rows to create a slim runway that ran the length of the armory, between Lexington and Park Avenues. Guests were asked not to use their phones or take pictures. It was disorienting, and more so when the models started appearing without music.
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Jacobs’s intention was for the audience to appreciate the moment in person, as they would have before camera phones became ubiquitous. And yet the effect was surprisingly distracting. You became aware of the whispered conversations happening around you. You noticed the sound of the models steps as they walked the long runway. You could tell that the models were watching the audience, too.
All of this was fascinating, and strangely increased the desire to guess what the clothes were about, even when it was not always clear. From my vantage, the models were backlit by the natural sunlight, making it hard to read the details. A large fur-trimmed parka went by, and then a polished wrap jacket with massive fox fur sleeves and a matching collar. Boot-cut cords and an oversize hat based on a backward ball cap. A gold pendant worn on a large chain, and later a red track suit. This was roughly the point when it became clear that the collection was based on the style of hip-hop, only a little more dressed up. In show notes (also unusual for Jacobs, but much appreciated), he said he had watched a documentary called “Hip-Hop Evolution,” and was impressed by how that music became a foundation of street style.
As a statement on the perils of instant fashion and social media, it was an experiment that came a little too late, as most editors have stopped taking photos during the shows because their pictures are lame and no one cares to see another blurry picture of Bella Hadid. But on the point of taking the time to appreciate what is right there in front of you, it worked very well. And for those who needed an Instagram moment, guests walked out of the show to discover all the models sitting on the sidewalk, filming the editors as they left the show. A stirring soundtrack blared on oversize speakers that could be heard blocks away.