Welcome to Now You Know, Eric Wilson’s column that will help you become a fashion know-it-all in one quick read. Each week, he’ll take a look at an endearing fashion influence and why it’s relevant right now. Enjoy!
For many people, the big pink house, when guests first encountered it at the Park Avenue Armory last Thursday night at the Marc Jacobs show, called to mind Barbie’s Dreamhouse, or maybe Dorothy’s after the twister. Thirty-feet tall, 38-feet wide and 110-feet long, the mansion-sized house had landed there as if by miracle in the middle of a cavernous Manhattan gallery (pictured, below). Katie Grand, the stylist, said it looked like the Southfork ranch from Dallas, and so that’s what people behind the scenes began to call the Marc Jacobs set for the spring 2015 collection.
At its best, fashion is theater, and no one in New York is more at home onstage than Jacobs. For the last decade, the designer has made extravagant set pieces a signature of his runway productions, spectacles in the best possible sense of the word, with backdrops that have included a Victorian beach, rolling hills, fractured mirrors, and, once, the sun. The challenge he sets for himself each season is, well, how do you top the last one? And the man in charge of finding the answers for much of the last decade has been Stefan Beckman, the brilliantly imaginative set designer (pictured, below).
For the collection shown last week, Beckman faced an unusual challenge: Because the downtown armory where Jacobs normally shows was unavailable, the designer moved his show to the uptown armory on Park Avenue and East 66th Street, which was problematic only because Tommy Hilfiger had shown his collection there on Monday, leaving only about 72 hours to install the set for Jacobs on Thursday. Normally, Beckman and his team have about a week.
How did he do it? The video above shows the installation of the house, which Beckman explained was constructed in pieces in a studio in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens. The hardest part was hoisting the ceiling in two huge sections into place by crane, placing it to rest, as the entire house does, atop a metal structure. The faux-brick walls were made of Homasote, a building material composed mainly of recycled newspaper. It took a crew of about 100 people to reconstruct the house inside the armory.
“We’ve done a lot of interesting sets, but never one this big,” Beckman says. “The scale was important to the space.”
The reason was that Beckman and Jacobs wanted the house to seem unreal, like an intentional installation. In recent years, the armory location has been the site of numerous arts events and creative performances, an association that appealed to the designer, who tends to think in abstract terms. In other words, the set is a piece of art, but you should not try to read too much into its meaning. Like its pinkness, which Jacobs described as the color of Pepto-Bismol, chosen as a happy contrast to the traditional khaki, slate and green of the exaggerated military uniforms seen in his collection. The actual shade was Benjamin Moore’s Island Sunset, and it took something like 300 gallons to coat the house.
The scale was also important, because the audience sitting around the house could not see what was happening on the other side, unlike the typical runway experience during which editors and retailers face each other as the models walk by. Here the runway was the perimeter of the house, covered in 46,000 pounds of pink-painted gravel. Guests sat on bleachers covered in pink shag carpeting, each seat connected to an individual pair of Beats by Dre headphones. When the show started, the soundtrack could only be heard through them, a concept by Steve Mackey and Erich Bechtel that essentially sounded like a computer generated voice instructing the models on their way around the house.
“If you had the headphones on, it was like being in a theater as the girls were walking by,” Beckman says. “You’re used to looking across the runway, but this was a very individual experience, because it was so close to you.”
It was also an experience that cannot be replicated. After the show, the set was torn down that night and the materials were recycled.