Frightful Times Call For Monstrous Clothes

If fashion is a mirror of an era, Marc Jacobs’s newest collection is a reflection of what outrageous ugliness we need to fit in with the present

Probably the last to present his autumn/winter 2022 collection, Marc Jacobs is also showing us how horrible the world is. And what ugliness of dress we need to meet the atrociousness head on. What Mr Jacobs proposes is a near-deformity of shapes (or not the usual with which dressmaking classes will teach measurement and proportion) that will not look out of place in the presence of clothes that seek to change ’ugly’ from a negative to a positive. Much of the pieces are bulky; they alter the natural outline of the body, effecting volume and mass(!) where we once did not desire to see. If the oversized puffer—first offered by Balenciaga in 2016—normalised the bulky upper body, Mr Jacobs girthy sweaters recommend that any part of the wearer can be given extra volume, gainly or not. A sure lesson, we think, for fashion students learning about silhouettes and the aesthetics of lines: bulk up wherever you like.

Quoting Nietzsche (in the show notes)—“We have art in order not to die of the truth”, Mr Jacobs’s brand of fashion-as-art has a whiff of the proportions of Botero imagined on a skinny body. And what is the immediate truth confronting Americans presently that requires the distraction of art, wearable as it were? The overturn of Roe Vs Wade? Are the wraps, knots, drapes, and tucks of the clothes that cause the shape of the body to distend also the “creativity (that) is essential to living (Nietzsche again)”? Mr Jacobs is considered one of the most creative American designers of his generation, but his creativity has shifted considerably, from his early years of promoting grunge (that complicated his career then) to the avant-garde of the proportionally-challenging since last season. Mr Jacobs has never shied away from acknowledging who has inspired him. This season, it’s an edge by way of Rick Owens, Rei Kawakubo (again), and a touch of Charles James under the bulk, with a nod to TikTok.

“Super size me” is, of course, an American enlargement of everything, from cars to stores to (fast) food to fashion. “Go big or go home” often means things in the US are just larger than the same elsewhere. Does upsizing boost the desirability of the item bulked up, just like McDonald’s French fries? “The showman of New York” Mr Jacobs uses bigness theatrically, not necessarily to attract women for whom clothes are not inherently a visual display. The enormousness is not quite the same as The Row’s oversized blazers. Some observers appreciate his exaggerated shapes for their “couture-like sensibility”, but most of the looks are based on ultra-large pieces tied to the body to create the mass. Already bulky knitted sweaters are sized bigger so that when worn or tied to the front, they are even hulkier. A top (jacket?), with sleeves tied across the naked breast, is so huge that the sleeves are large enough to accommodate thighs. Similar tops go round the hips to create bustles without (presumably) padded cushions. Gowns have skirts that are so ballooned that they make Issey Miyake’s inflatable dresses look barely bloated. It is unclear how these clothes can escape being cumbersome.

But there are, conversely, the barely-there pieces too. Itsy-bitsy bra tops to cater to the likes of Emily Ratajkowski, who is at the show. Interspersed among the aberrantly massive clothes are slim skirts (with a gaping back!) and slender dresses (in lace) for those occasions when bulk would just take up too much space. However, not to be outsized are the bags: One shoulder tote in the style of the triangular Japanese azuma bukuro (or cloth market bags) is so large it could probably fit a week’s grocery in it. Or, those massive and tall, five-strap, platform clompers that would not look out of place in the TV series Pose. Mr Jacobs has loved those by Rick Owens since 2019, before the pandemic. He has made versions of it before, but in this season, every model—both men and women (the clothes are unisex, we understand)—are shod in a pair, either in black or white. One of them nearly fell! Despite the brand’s seemingly waning popularity, with this collection, and the recent reported restructuring of the brand, the storied New York name that is Marc Jacobs is not likely going to come tumbling down.

Screen shot (top): Marc Jacobs/YouTube. Photos: Marc Jacobs