Marc Jacobs closed out New York Fashion Week last night with a completely silent, brightly hued show that was generally well received. We took one look at the show's offerings, however, and were overcome with the following sentiment, excuse our French: This merde again?
It would appear that last night's spring/summer 2018 presentation was Jacobs' third out of his last four shows in which he relied on cultures not his own to shape his line, in what Reuters described as designs "echoing Arabian Nights."
Jacobs, conveniently, had a different take. Women's Wear Daily reported the following:
“There’s tons [going on],” Jacobs said. Indeed. He insisted that the collection had no deep, intellectual or conceptual springboard. It clearly progressed from last season’s ode to hip-hop style. “We’re calling the whole thing ‘Somewhere’ — from Sofia [Coppola]’s movie,” he said. “But also, last season was all about this urban landscape, and this is not about any [particular] landscape. It’s somewhere, I’m not sure where.”
Ah, yes, "somewhere" — an imaginary, completely made-up universe where somehow turbans and head wraps exist, even though they're derived from another world — one which does exist. And don't even get us started on our issues with Sofia Coppola.
Though Jacobs omitted his creative inspiration, it was clear as day to others, including the multiple outlets that explicitly used the term "Arabian" to describe the show's millinery. One could venture to say that if this collection were as isolated as Jacobs insists, it wouldn't invite comparison to a distinct culture.
Even Vogue's Nicole Phelps felt that Jacobs' collection, billed as his greatest hits redux, was uninspired.
"Jacobs shot to fame for channeling the energies of contemporary youth. As he begins his second quarter-century, maybe the formula is as simple as that: Find something that really turns him on. And dig in," she wrote.
It's true what Phelps wrote regarding Jacobs' initial ascension. While creative director of Perry Ellis in 1993, he sent a risky collection down the runway that precipitated his firing, but ultimately led to the creation of his eponymous brand that would one day usurp Perry Ellis. This 1993 collection, featuring a grunge-soaked catwalk, would usher in the style that we today consider to be so quintessentially '90s and cemented his repute as fashion's alt-darling.
The now-infamous grunge show was drawn from a more organic place than, say, his last three or four collections.
"It came out of a genuine feeling for what I saw on the streets and all around me,” he told the New York Times in 2015.
Of course, all fashion designers (and all creatives, in a larger sense) pull from inspirations to influence their aesthetic output. But Jacobs' recent track record suggests a particularly slow learning curve — and an obtuse lenience on cultural references.
Since his disastrous locs-on-white-models moment, Jacobs has slightly improved with regard to crediting his inspo (literally Blackness) and assigning them to models with appropriately corresponding features (literally Black girls).
For autumn/winter 2017, he admitted his collection was inspired by the Netflix docu-series Hip-Hop Evolution and featured enough WOC models to statistically land his show as one of the most diverse of the season. As an onlooker, it felt like a small — yet optimistic — step in the right direction.
But this three-out-of-four-seasons-in-a-row reliance on cultural appropriation for aesthetic guidance displays a questionable fixation with, at best, the beauty in other cultures and, at worst, a lack of creativity and fetish-like insistence on leeching off of "exotic" people's style.
It begs the question: why, though?
Some say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The problem with "reimagining" other cultures, though, is that said reimagining, through Jacobs' gaze, is the very definition of whitewashing.
It feels particularly odd that in a time in which call-out culture and discourse regarding cultural appropriation is heightened more than ever before, Jacobs is now staging these shows.
During John Galliano's reign at Christian Dior (1996-2011) prior to his firing following a drunken anti-Semetic rant, "reimaginings" of cultures not his own were par for the course (see examples a, b, and c) and were widely celebrated for their fantastical impressions. These presentations, one hundred percent problematic by today's standards, succeeded in a distinct way where Jacobs' fall short. Galliano's shows, finding the future in the past, also managed to offer something new to the equation, using past styles as a jumping-off point from which to expand.
Jacobs' AW17, by contrast, was a mere copy and paste of styles popularized by hip-hop's rise. So then, if you think about it, are his so-called "reimaginings" even deserving of that description?
Not every single piece of Jacobs' SS18 collection was overtly offensive. And of course, he did not make those headdresses himself; coincidentally, they were produced by Stephen Jones, the very same milliner that worked with Galliano on pieces for his Dior shows of fashion months past.
Blinded by his recent dedication to whitewashing, on full display again last night, however, it was hard to get past the distracting bits to determine if anything in the collection was legitimately interesting, creative or innovative.
Most of Jacobs' Black models were outfitted with head wraps as opposed to turbans (though not all) showing a baby step, similar to AW17, to bring some small semblance of sensitivity into his looks. However, there were Black models in turbans, white models in head wraps, and vice versa.
It appeared that last night's Marc Jacobs show was yet another out-of-touch dispatch from Jacobs' idea of a utopian universe. It was a postcard from a post-racial society — one, as we know all too well, that doesn't exist.