Marc Jacobs may be in his fifties, but his singular aesthetic of “the way you want to be” won him a following when he stepped on the scene in the 1990s. The brand has been a pillar of fashion’s subversive chic since. In New York City over the weekend, the icon of the current counterculture from the ’80s comes down the runway. With this comes a danger of nostalgia – Jacobs likes to appear contemporary, but has never been much interested in being one. (Compare his aesthetic to Bill Cunningham’s over the years, a reminder of an earlier style of rock ‘n’ roll in fashion that every bona fide wearer of New York style has lived in at some point.)
This season, the designer will celebrate what is practically a NYFW anniversary, 30 years on the calendar. The Marc Jacobs brand was born in 1990 when Jacobs founded his eponymous business in London. It was no small feat at the time – working in bespoke tailor shops in Manhattan for 10 years, he knew a thing or two about tailoring.
Named in part after his grandfather, the artsy designer was a fan of pre-WWII “giant chic,” with a sense of romanticism honed by the shows of the 1940s and 1950s. “Men wanted to be princes of their own palace,” Jacobs told me at his Madison Avenue showroom in 2013. “This was the prince. They were wearing the blue velvet tuxedo, because they were so sophisticated and glammed up.”
Jacobs continued to showcase this look as designer Betsey Johnson, whose show he just produced, was trying to popularize a modern,robotically effeminate lady.
One could argue that the French luxe label Bottega Veneta was taking up where Jacobs had left off after launching his own brand. The Bottega Veneta purses for which Mark Jacobs was famous are now everywhere. This was in part a tribute to Jacobs – he had been identified with the bags and accessories of the Bottega Veneta. Jacobs’s minimalism and penchant for the minimal got him noticed at Bottega Veneta in 2001. The hedonistic, pristine new-world wear of edgy jewelry designer Bottega Veneta and Jacobs’s love for vintage fashion, originally coined a “paleo retro” look, continued.
One of his best-selling styles was the 18ct gold cufflinks sold in 2,750 stores. Describing a pocket protector necklace he made for Dolce & Gabbana in 2000, he said, “I was, like, one of the people who said, ‘No, no, no. Don’t do this.’ But it was, like, the way they wanted to dress. I really liked the rich Italian girls, so I did it.” Jacobs has over the years been involved in a number of high-profile collaborations, including collaborations with Louis Vuitton in 2015 and Balenciaga in 2017.
When I worked at Time Out New York in 1990, the city was coming apart at the seams. The melding of fashion, retail and media was taking hold. Sex and the City was breaking all demographics. Living in the glam city of New York — long a beneficiary of fashion insiders — the brand’s character was forever being brought to the stage. The legacy of Jacobs is the dismantling of this divide and the question: What comes next? There is a generation of young designers eager to embody Jacobs’s spirit and the danger of going back to the old system. Are the large brands re-examining their identities – are we going to see the Kardashians joining Marc Jacobs? In 2019, fashion is in the later stages of a new phenomenon: high fashion with a mass appeal.
The future, however, for Jacobs is revealed on Saturday night at the Hammerstein Ballroom. His designs will be accompanied by his version of the New York skyline, celebrating the city that birthed the designer and the modern “alternative lifestyle” of minimalism. On one floor, a younger generation will be wearing Jacobs’s fashions, perhaps suggesting their own version of how to be, while on the other floor a celebration will commence for the memory of a deeply influential designer who redefined what life in New York can be. A trademark Marc Jacobs show is where the noise may be reduced, and as much about what is happening for him as what is happening for fashion and his audience.