American Avant-Garde?

Marc Jacobs returns with a new collection of gigantic hoods and snoods. And, surprisingly, there’s nothing ’70s about it

After a longer-than-one-season break, Marc Jacobs is back, showing—really, really late—autumn/winter 2021 in his native New York. Every time we thought we have seen the final anything for this year, then we wouldn’t be. Americans are naturally thrilled. Mr Jacobs’s collections are the only ones during New York Fashion Week, even now off-calendar, that, as one buyer told us, people actually see. Now that he’s showing at his own pace, fans and observers are even more curious. Will he stand out without his compatriots to compare to (remembering what Tom Ford showed in February now could be hard)? Will the looks in Europe filter down to his runway’s? Will he be the darling of the global press? Mr Jacobs has always known how to make the news, from desecrating the monogram of one luxury brand to starting fashion shows unreasonably late, he has done quite enough attention grabbing. Even his not showing last season was major news. His name is, in fact, rarely not, which makes this collection’s use of his moniker in bold, san-serif font and near-neon colours in place of a monogram a bit of a puzzler.

Perhaps Mr Jacobs does not want you to forget him. The name, therefore, must be masthead-large (and repeated in lines) to be noticeable, just as the clothes are crazily massive to be noted. Would the Marc Jacobs store (or all other stockists retailing his line, such as Bergdorf Goodman) be required to make even more capacious paper bags than usual? These are seriously oversized garments. The 101 ways with Sleeping Bags? In the case of the outers, they look large enough to fit two wearers. In fact, you actually see more clothes that the persons in them. We’re thinking of South Park’s Kenneth “Kenny” McCormick! Mr Jacobs chose to have the runway—in the New York Public Library, rather than his usual Park Avenue Armory—photos shot to see the side of the models. This could be better to highlight the chunky, vaguely ’60s silhouettes, but they give little to how the clothes would look front-facing. A view of the show is, therefore, necessary. The front, too, obscures the body in many instances, sometimes even faces. There could have been droids in those padded cocoons.

For the present, Mr Jacobs has left the ’70s, even if momentarily. He, too, has allowed the usual Yves Saint Laurent and Rei Kawakubo grips to weaken. Despite the outre shapes and the unwieldy proportions, there seems to be semblance of looking back—to the ’60, first, in what has been described as “space age-y”—those outerwear and their attendant hoods or padded balaclavas, vaguely recalling the futurism of André Courrèges, and secondly, the dresses with medallion-sized paillettes, vaguely bringing to mind Paco Rabanne. Mr Jacobs is a master plunderer of the past, positioning what he acquires at points just past the present. He has taken the vintage-y out of the space age-y by pumping up the volume of the clothes or elongating sleeves and skirts. Exaggeration of shape is not exactly new these days, but New York designers have not been enthralled by the practice. Mr Jacobs knows, therefore, that he can draw attention with the goofy enlargement, and re-establish himself as the American who can.

So the practicable is replaced by the outlandish, as he sends out massive jackets and coats (their size augmented by the skinniness of the pants or the outrageous girth of their legs); some hooded coats placed over heads like wearable tipis. Even Mr Jacobs’s prim jackets with rounded collars are upsized. The puffer jackets are even larger, some with hoods the size of African elephants ears, and one, with a hooded snood as tall and wide as a 20-litre water dispenser bucket. The puffers are so bulky, they come with straps so that you can carry them like backpacks. Whatever cannot be made excessively larger are lengthened: shoulders and sleeves, skirts and pants (so long that they require platform Mary Janes to prevent them from dragging). Veil-like hoods (in sweater knit) are so long, they look like chadors from afar. Paillettes destined for discotheques appear on skirts and dresses, and granny cardis, or are shaped into bib-sized neckwear. The collection also shows Mr Jacobs to be an avid colorist: brights are paired with more brights, sometimes with vintage-looking graphic patterns in the richer shades of ecclesiastical robes. All in all, lots to see, but how much of them will really arouse desire? Marc Jacobs is hopeful; he calls the collection Happiness.

Photos: Marc Jacobs

Chaotic Show, Muted Clothes

Marc Jacobs casts aside the theatrical for performance

 

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This is not the close of NYFW that one expects, not the bang that Marc Jacobs usually strikes. The expansive barn that is the Park Avenue Armory is, once again, free of sets, in which models and the like could set themselves free. And they do. If confusion sets in after the first minute, it is understandable. In one corner, you could have been seeing a Savage X Fenty show, in another, it could have been Yeezy (in colour!), and then suddenly, a march of Michael Kors!

It is frenetic; the video cameras unable to keep up. Dancers are dancing their modern, performance-art-type moves, and models are marching in their modern, performance-be-damned struts. Dancers are dressed by Marc Jacobs, models are in Marc Jacobs, but which are the runway clothes and which are costume? Perhaps there is no division since dancers and models are just in clothes—what in NYFW this season has been happily called “real clothes”. Marc Jacobs, believe it, gets real, even if it’s Insta-real.

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Or, is New York’s biggest name not pushing himself anymore? The present climate—political and social—not conducive to audacious creativity? Perhaps there had been enough homage to Yves Saint Laurent and Comme des Garçons? After all, excessive and prolonged adulation can lead to derivation, conscious or not. So this season, Mr Jacobs returns to his roots, with a bit of old Marc, Studio 52 Marc, Bleeker Street Marc, Mercer Hotel Marc, Marc by Marc Jacobs Marc, happily married Marc (those who have tied the knot tends to pare down, no?), and, for good measure, an imaginary Marc for Gap Marc. Well, Mr Jacobs knows he’s on home turf.

Amid the frenetic presentation (even Miley Cyrus’s unexpected appearance is missed), some of the clothes make you wonder why they deserve a runway: a trio of lame slip-like dresses, a few of the smart and neat skirt-suits, even those evening gowns that look a tad like the one Gwyneth Paltrow wore to accept her Best Actress in a Leading Role Oscar. Nothing wrong with the clothes per se; they could just go straight to the store(s), skipping the show. So much, in fact, appear to be just clothes styled to be fashion, with more than a handful of underpants to give a rising (and possibly threatening) Rihanna a run for her money.

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Somewhere in the mix is parody of the ’60s. How else would you describe an unconvincing Bella Hadid with big, comb-back hair, in that black dress—period does come to mind—and white opera gloves? If this was on a red carpet, any red carpet, she would not have made the best, nor worst dress list. What’s worse than being unplaced? What Ms Hadid wears isn’t necessarily bad, just pointless. But what is second-rate-and-cheap-looking are the one blouse, as well as two body-enhancing dresses, made entirely of flattened rosettes—the stitching together of hand-shaped florals, an idea fashion students love to adopt when they are short of funds to buy fabric of a certain sumptuousness. Besides, it looks too craft-like for someone allegedly enamoured with couture.

And those court shoes, with terribly pointy toes to boot! Are we seeing a return to heels, just as the other collections are suggesting we abandon sneakers? Well, if the dancers can dance in them, you can walk in them—that seems to be the message. But it is, in fact, hard to read this collection. Could this be just a lull for Marc Jacobs? Or are we, henceforth, seeing more of proper (but not prim) clothes that the brand has to sell, rather than for you to savour?

Photos:  Filippo Fior/gorunway.com

 

High Are His Heels

It’s ironic that men are wearing towering heels when more and more women are abandoning them. Marc Jacobs seems to be leading the way. These may not be ruby red slippers, but they’re not far off

 

Marc Jacobs standing tall(er). Photo: themarcjacobs/instagram

By Carl Chan

It’s been increasingly difficult to make sense of fashion. Actually, I find it harder and harder to find the true meaning in clothes worn today. Or their implications. Or their significance, their value. Fashion has gone beyond fashion and mere self-expression. Fashion can also mean I don’t care about what I wear. Which is in itself fashion.

Ugliness is fashion. Normal is fashion. Barely-clothed is fashion. Modesty is fashion. Tight is fashion. Over-sized is fashion. Anti-fit is fashion. Anything is fashion. Everything is fashion. Mass is fashion. Custom is fashion. High is fashion. Low is fashion. Black is fashion. White is fashion. And every shade between is fashion. Expensive is fashion. Expansive is fashion. Affordable is fashion. Unaffordable is fashion. Exclusive is fashion. Inclusive is fashion. And, increasingly, as well as crucially, no-reference-to-sex is fashion.

When gender is now a non-issue and both sexes are free to express their feminine or masculine sides, or both, in dress (as noun to mean ‘clothing’, not a one-piece that women traditionally wear and now some men find a joy to don), lines are blurred or erased, and I am none the wiser. Sometimes, when one gender veers less towards an article of clothing, an accessory, the other adopts it; them.

Take footwear. Sneakers of every stripe—and swipe—have been the collective disruptor of the industry and consumption choice. Women who once frown on sneakers (especially when the kicks were considered too low until platform running shoes—of course not for running—came along) are now wearing them to the office, even before casual Friday comes acalling. I sit in the MRT train and look at the shod feet of the row of women seated before me, and more often then not, they are in sneakers, or flats or slippers—anything sans heels .

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I sensed the clear-as-Cinderella’s-glass-slippers irony when I recently saw Marc Jacob’s IG post showing him posing in heels. Or, maybe not since Mr Jacobs is a known heel lover and wearer (you could be one and not the other), among other accouterments once mostly associated with women. But the boots he wears of late—Rick Owens, no less—have heels that are high, even by Rupaul’s Drag Race standards. That he could go “hiking” in them is a marvel of nimble footwork, if not supreme self-confidence. Yet this seems to go against what The Wall Street Journal reported a year ago: that “…smart, chic women are abandoning high heels (forever)”.

Of course, they said nothing about the men. To be sure, men wearing heels go back as far as the 15th century, when in Persia, soldiers wore boot-like shoes with elevated heels to help them have a better ‘grip’ on the stirrups. The Greeks may dispute that since their ancients were known to wear kothornis, platforms that could go up to four inches high in stage plays (apparently, the higher the heel, the more important the role). Reportedly, the heel-wearing Persian horsemen brought their footwear with them to Europe, where vain aristocratic males thought that such shoes would make them appear not only taller, but powerful; even formidable. That heels were later very much a part of French fashion in the court of Louis XIV was only outmatched by the luxury fashion consumed then and the constant renewal of the nobility’s wardrobes, creating a culture of couture and consumption that would eventually establish France as a fashion force, outdoing the scene in the sartorially notable Spain, where the style was beginning to look a little sad, strict, and severe.

Fast forward to more relatable times and the first image that comes to the mind (er, my mind) is that of David Bowie. I was not old enough to remember or even have seen the outrageous footwear he had a weakness for, but I do remember that in 1996, Mr Bowie, months to go before he turned 50, wore a pair of black shoes with noticeably high acrylic heels to perform at the Brit Awards of that year. He looked positively elegant and, dare I say, free of the androgyny that had characterised his career in the ’70s. If Mr Bowie could wear heels so not outrageously, and nicely fashionable, surely more men could adopt similarly high footwear?

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In the 2010s, it would take the prominence of queer style (not—to be clear—drag costume) to put the spotlight on high heels for men. I’m not sure exactly when heels became pervasive enough to constitute a trend. Gay men are known to express the extremes in style, from articles of the female wardrobe to garbs that exaggerate already defined musculature. But through creative pursuits such as dance, they have used performance footwear not associated with their sex to elevate their craft, never mind if hairy legs and stilettos may be a tad disconcerting, even if we take in evolving aesthetics. Add another irony to all this: some men actually walk, if not dance, better in them heels than women!

I don’t know when Mr Jacobs took to wearing heels in daily life or a mere walk in the park, but I am aware that, professionally, one Frenchman Yanis Marshall has been wearing heels in his dance performance since, probably, as long as he has been dancing. In fact, heel-wearing among men seems to be restricted to the profession of dance (in particular heel or stiletto dance) until Mr Jacobs took it out to the streets. I am sure there are others too, but the former Louis Vuitton designer has been especially public about his heel habit.

Perhaps Mr Jacobs feels that no one gender actually owns high heels. Maybe he merely wants to accord his favourite shoes a unisex, non-binary status, and live by the increasingly common motto, you can wear whatever you want, just as you can do whatever you want. Surely this is not as simple as underscoring a gay identity? Or, perhaps, very simply, the 1.75m designer just wants to be a little bit taller and, like the noble men of the 18th century, formidable.

A Very Mixed Bag

Who is Marc Jacobs paying homage to this time?

 

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There could be good reason why Marc Jacobs gets to close New York Fashion Week (NYFW). Again. Most of NYFW is (still) so bland, repetitive, and uninspiring that New Yorkers need their once-Paris-based star to offer the drama (and irreverence?) an event such as this increasingly require so that there is build-up, and the attendees can get their fashion-week high. Mr Jacobs is, of course, up for the task. And he knows that he is the only one with the gumption to close the week with considerable bang. But did he?

The spectacle is certainly there. And one gets the feeling that fun is what Mr Jacobs is bent on having and that the models, too, have been given marching orders to have a good time, whether in a T-shirt or swathed in swirls. Mr Jacobs sense of jollification means that he does not need to play by rules, respect codes, or even meet expectations. He puts on the runway whatever pleases him, tented prairie dresses included. In the bareness of the show venue—once more the Park Avenue Armory—and its vastness, the clothes need all the exuberance they can pull to beat other shows (namely in Paris) with set so massive and are so detailed that it isn’t surprising Hollywood specialists were involved. And they are spirited clothes.

But do they make him leader of the New York pack? Yes, if only because Mr Jacobs does not care what you and I think. He is past proving to us that he can do a perfect jacket or flounce the most cumbersome dress. I’m doing Fashion, he seems to say, and, in case the collection gets untranslatable on the selling floor, he throws in some street style reminiscent of Marc by Marc Jacobs for good measure.

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According to online reports, Mr Jacobs is looking back to the past. When has he not? This time, it is to 2001, the year of the New York tragedy that brought the World Trade Centre down, to his collection that preceded that world-changing time. Mr Jacobs was still with Louis Vuitton then, four years into the job. His success at LV brought a strong sense of confidence to his own label. One of the earliest to celebrate the ’80s, he sent out a collection that had all the joie that we see in the current, but was hitched to wearable than haute. In describing Mr Jacobs’s designs today, eighteen years after that show, nostalgic is a word still bandied about.

In the addition to vivid recall, Mr Jacobs seems to have, in his clothes, invited his friends or those he admires. As in the past, Yves Saint Laurent is there, so is his former rival Karl Lagerfeld. Valentino via Pierpaolo Piccioli shows up. Ditto Gucci via Alessandro Michele. Viktor and Rolf appears, as well as Franco Moschino and Elio Fiorucci; even the milliner Lilly Daché attends. So do, surprise, Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren. And, gosh, Canal Jeans Company!

Perhaps he’s also suggesting that, like him, Mr Ford’s customers are inspired by others too, dead or alive, real or not. Women can be like style icon Anita Pallenberg, models can channel Pat Cleveland (with the exception of Gigi Hadid who only does Gigi Hadid). Between that, Olive Oyl, Anita Ekberg, or Karen White, maybe?

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A collection these days is, of course, no longer based on a theme, a clothing category, or even clear narrative. According to the show notes as cited by the press, the designs and styling serve as “reminder of the joy in dressing up”. Mr Jacobs allows anything-goes to dictate—practical and whimsical happily co-exist, so do florals and checks, sheer and tweedy. They come together in a way that sometimes contradicts popular wisdom of how women now dress: not dressed up! Perhaps, doll up is what Mr Jacobs is alluding to, for there are some pieces that even getai singers would find challenging.

To be fair, he is on-trend too. Just as reports repeat in your news feed about the popularity of asymmetric jeans, Mr Jacobs shows a pair that’s half slim-fit, half shorts. But perhaps trend setting is not quite the mission here, playing the ultimate fashion designer is. Despite rumours of declining fortunes, Marc Jacobs has not succumbed to making clothes that don’t grab headlines. If NYFW in its rebirth is banking on New York’s favourite son to elevate its standing among fashion weeks, they can sure benefit from his jaunty optimism.

Photos: (top) Marc Jacobs/YouTube, (runway) vogue.com/Filippo Fior/gorunway.com

Does This Look Current?

Marc Jacobs revives his ’90s, career-damaging ‘Grunge’ collection. Whatever for?

 

Mark Jacobs is not known to let the past remain in the past. So it’s no surprise that he is bringing the past back. To be specific 1992’s ‘Grunge’ collection that he did for Perry Ellis, and shown during the 1993 spring/summer season of New York Fashion Week. Saying the collection wasn’t well received is putting it mildly—even now, in a culture of trolls. Subsequently, Mr Jacobs, aged 29, was asked to leave his position as head of women’s wear at the then 14-year-old American label.

‘Grunge’ will be reissued in its entirety later this month. According to the brand, it’ll be Marc Jacobs cruise 2019—in the form of “Redux”, rather than an entirely new collection, as it would be if resuscitation wasn’t in the plan. For a less-known designer, would that be considered laziness? Permission, as reported, was granted by Perry Ellis International, the current brand owner. Comprising 26 looks, “Redux” will include clothing in their original fabrics and prints (also cartoons by Robert Crumb), as well as head wear, jewellery, accessories, and shoes (those Doc Martens boots!). A complete comeback. Marketing genius.

This return of what some consider Mr Jacobs’s breakthrough is clearly timed to appeal to those who had no chance to enjoy the introduction—either because they were not clued in then or were not born yet. It is also very likely to cash in on the tail end of the love of flowy, floral dresses worn to capture hipster cool rather than prairie charm, a look that can be traced to the early days of Vetements. And now adopted by even an unlikely brand: Uniqlo.

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Mr Jacobs’s collection circa 1992 was not the epitome of originality since, back then, it was a look already adopted by those who cared not a hoot about designers, and certainly not Perry Ellis designed by a relative unknown (it is doubtful the consumers of today know who Mr Ellis was). The too-relaxed clothes, in the heydays of Calvin Klein and Donna Karan, were decidedly downmarket looking. But despite the disapproval of designer fashion appearing so thrift store, what Mr Jacobs showed seized the attention of the mainstream already ready to adopt shabby dresses and granny sweaters the way girls these days make their own with denim cutoffs and hoodies.

Grunge was basically two things. Foremost, it was music—part punk rock, part heavy metal (the Seattle band Nirvana exemplified the sound). As a subculture emerged from the popularity of the music, it became the second thing—fashion. Women, as well as men (who wore sleeves of flannel shirts tied around the waist so that the garments fell like skirts), were influenced. One of the results of grunge fashion: women started to move away from high heels, since grunge devotees mainly wore boots (and, to some extent, sneakers). It prompted one noted Singaporean designer to say, “women no longer know how to walk. Grunge killed heels.” Marc Jacobs may not take credit for that, but he certainly was part of the rapid casualisation of fashion.

Grunge re-wrote the language of high-end style. Chic was redefined, so was elegance. Both in dress and gait. While grunge may match today’s preference for dressing down, Mr Jacob’s reissues do not exactly enliven the vapid state that fashion has found itself in. Dull is the only word for it. It does’t help that Gigi Hadid here, one of the girls headlining the campaign, appears bored, even disgruntled, and looks unimpressed. Her face is telling: That she in a lacklustre granny macrame sweater and dime-a-dozen-now floral slip dress, originally worn in 1992 by Cecilia Chancellor, still says one thing—while old is new again, it is ultimately not new.

Marc Jacobs “Redux” will be available online from 15 November. Photo: Juergen Teller/Marc Jacobs

Fluff And Puff

New York’s favourite son did what he does best: to those designers he loves, he paid homage, exaggerated to the hilt

 

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Marc Jacobs, what have we said about you that we have not already said? Seventies—check; Yves Saint Laurent—check; Comme des Garçons—check. Especially YSL and CDG—check, check. As a follower of SOTD said to us recently, “Marc’s two gods: Yves and Rei”. So it’s no surprise that the runway of the spring/summer 2019 collection was again the altar in honour of his two idols. It is not clear if Mr Jacobs communes with them alone, or together with those who admires him, but it is certain he is not vague about who he worships. Non-believers be damned.

How do you fault such aesthetic conviction? You can’t. If we can have idols, why not he? From his collection for Perry Ellis in 1988 to the present, Mr Jacobs has always played fanboy, not a shy one cheering soundlessly at the sides, but an ebullient ringmaster who can pile on the spectacle. And he did not pull back with the current collection, celebrating the excesses of the designers he loves with even more fulsomeness. Some people called the collection a “feast for the eyes”, but have the eyes not feasted enough? Or, is fashion only fashion when it allows one to feast on it?

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To be sure, Mr Jacobs can offer a smorgasbord. Even if it’s a mash-up that the Italians can outdo, he holds his own by depending less on the unnecessarily weird or the outright geeky or the matriarch-gone-mad. Mr Jacobs, after Louis Vuitton, is in post-French couture state of mind. In addition, he stays true to his identity as a club kid; he susses out and absorbs what he sees in a crowd or in the crowded recesses of his mind, then works them into his clothes by mixing the contents abstracted from different sources the way a DJ would mix his edits, tapping from classical music to even folk songs for a borderless ‘bootleg’ that can be intoxicating for those who dig such overlay and overplay.

And it was with this exuberance, not any vestige of originality, that Mr Jacobs was able to fascinate. And the overwrought result this season, for many fashion types, was no less able to captivate. This is all the more remarkable because Marc Jacobs has not scored favourably with consumers this past years. So perceptible were his lost of cachet—first hinted at by none other than LVMH’s CEO Bernard Arnault last year when he he told investors that he was “more concerned about Marc Jacobs than the US president”—that The New York Times ran an article entitled “How Marc Jacobs Fell Out of Fashion”, noting that “the label is turning out clothes and accessories that lack a compelling point of view”. Mr Jacobs point of view has always been through the lens of something focused on the past, as well as his tenure in a Paris fashion house.

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So march he does to his own beat of a certain vintage. At the risk of repeating ourselves, Mr Jacobs revisited the early years of Yves Saint Laurent and the latter of Comme des Garçons. The sharp-eyed may see Chanel—Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel from the late ’80s—tossed in for good measure. And those oversized rosettes? Maybe Emmanual Ungaro? For sure, YSL’s jackets were there and CDG’s body-obscuring poufs too. Even if one day these two brands become irrelevant, there will always be Mr Jacobs reminding us of their greatness, of their impact on him, and the theatrics he has bought to an otherwise staid New York Fashion Week.

This is amusing (nerve-wracking sometimes), and no one revives as entertainingly and consistently as Mr Jacobs. However, despite all that he has put into the splendorous outfits—and there is considerable effort, we should say—Mr Jacobs has not been able to generate what in America is known as the X factor. These clothes can create visual impact, but they don’t get us, as Diana Vreeland said of Cristobal Balenciaga, “madly infatuated”.

Photos: Marc Jacobs

Marc Shots

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Is Marc Jacobs waking up to the potential of the modest fashion market, one that the upcoming Singapore Fashion Week will be dedicating space to?

For his spring/summer 2018 show, Mr Jacobs and co-conspirator, the milliner Stephen Jones, had the head of every model on the runway—Gigi Hadid’s too!—swaddled. They’ve been described as turbans but some could easily be gift wraps, except for Ms Hadid’s, one of two that looked like how you may fashion a towel on your head after washing your hair. Nor are they anything like Rosie the Riveter’s. And definitely not the staggering towers of Erykah Badu’s.

The wearing of the turban is, of course, not necessarily connected with modesty. Hollywood of yore saw many actresses wearing turbans as fashion wear unrelated to proclivity for concealing their hair, among them Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford. Is Mr Jacobs trying to revive past glamour? What cultural appropriation would he be accused of this time?

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Watching his music-free, joyless show (no matter how colourful, it just felt glum), it is not easy to reconcile the hint at bygone head-wear glamour with the clothes. Mr Jacobs seemed to be trying to capture the Zeitgeist. He offered the volume of the moment, the cross-cultural hybrid of the day, the iridescence prevalent in the pop/social media sphere of the generation. There was a bit of Hollywood, a dash of Harlem, and whole lot of street (wear).

It is all fine (and dandy?) to reflect the taste of times, but does it adequately say anything about Mr Jacobs as a leader of the pack? The oversized suits, which really looked like they were the wrong size, came seasons too many after Demna Gvasalia’s Balenciaga (alright, somewhere among them is a zoot suit!). Those big sweaters and cardigans, they are, by now, too associated with Raf Simons. And the retro prints: Pucci and Prada bedded?

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As we were writing this, a WhatsApp message from a reader appeared, interrupting our pondering: “What would Marc Jacobs do if he didn’t have YSL and Rei (Kawakubo) to be ‘inspired’ by?” What indeed? But Mr Jacobs has become so adept at iterating his obsessions that he has become a parody of his own parody, obliterating possible inspirations. When we looked at those boiler suits (worn with flashy jewellery) and the fanny packs that already had their day at Chanel, we can’t help but think of the grunge collection of so many years ago that nearly destroyed him.

Marc Jacobs is in many ways like the garish pairing of accessories of the collection—for example, dangling and sparkly earrings with those bum bags (worn in front! If we were to wear it similarly, we’d look like the kopi tiam’s kopi soh!): a chronic contradiction who succeeds when he is able to swing between YSL and Rei, or straddle the two. In his world, still coloured by the excesses of Studio 54 and informed by the flashiness of hip-hop-era-on African-American dress, Marc Jacobs is phoney flamboyance and calculated irreverence. All at once.

Photos: Marc Jacobs

Marc’s Own Loud

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Marc Jacobs has always been the star of New York Fashion Week. It is, however, less certain if, of late, he’s the star of New York fashion retail. If the rumour about the brand’s parent company is to be believed (that they are worried about its performance), maybe there is some belt-tightening going on at Marc Jacobs.

That could perhaps explain the show’s eyebrow-raising bare-bones presentation. There was no backdrop or props, no raised runway, and, gasp, no music. Just the cavernous interior of the Park Avenue Armory, a favourite show venue. This could have been a dry-run, a rehearsal, but it wasn’t. This was fashion’s answer to the black box theatre. To make matters more interesting, possibly tense, smartphone photography was not allowed! While the American media quickly suggested that it was “the no-frills NYFW antidote we needed”, we’re inclined to believe that it reflects the current financial reality behind the label.

So take a bad situation and make it a talking point. Why not? After all, Marc Jacobs is about talking points, even if they’re not about the clothes. Just last season, Mr Jacobs had to apologise for the use of dreadlocks on white models after so many people accused him of cultural appropriation (what about stylistic appropriation?). A Marc Jacobs show has always been known to be a huge, hot-ticket affair. To many, it is been mostly akin to a Puccini production. So for a pull-back such as this, it could be either artistic expression or budgetary constraints.

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A quiet staging does not mean quiet clothes. The show was called Respect, and we immediately thought of Aretha Franklin. That she might actually wear some of the pieces in the 42-look collection reflects Mr Jacobs’s flair for plunging the past and coming up swanky. In his show notes, which the media has been quoting, Mr Jacobs stated that he was inspired by a little-known documentary series called Hip Hop Evolution. He also reiterated that he is a “ a born and bred New Yorker” and explained that “this collection is my representation of the well-studied dressing up of casual sportswear.”

And that was where the unsurprising laid. By “sportswear”, Mr Jacobs really meant the sportswear that defines American fashion, as well as the sportswear (or sports clothes) that now dominates streetwear. In this respect, he is doing what so many other fellow designers in New York are doing. As we saw them, the clothes were not inventive and the styling was stock.

And sure, Aretha Franklin’s Respect was a 1967 hit, and hip hop emerged in the ’70s and came to prominence in the ’80s, but Ms Franklin remained very much a pop-music icon through those decades. Let’s look at the ’70s then: if Good Times were to have a present-decade run, Willona Woods would be dressed by Marc Jacobs. Why, Ms Woods could be working in a Marc Jacobs store! That these were and are how black women like to wear their clothes is not lost on a generation weaned on the eye-catching styles of Rihanna and Beyoncé. These are ensembles that draw neighbouring eyes to the wearer. Or as Good Time’s JJ would say “Dy-no-mite!”

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Marc Jacobs excels in creating looks, even before Hedi Slimane did at Saint Laurent. Hippy, geeky, disco, trash-glam, glam-trash, anything pre-1990s, he’s game, and, chances are, he has already got them up his sleeves. We sometimes wonder if he has spent most of his formative years in a thrift store the way some bookish types almost live in a library. Thus, typical of his collections, there were retro shapes, disco glitter, and ghetto fabulousness. Sometimes, it is not an exaggeration to say that Mr Jacobs operates like an illustrious film costume designer.

An old US Harper’s Bazaar article delighted at the fact that “a Marc Jacobs is like a college girl’s great army-surplus-store find—except that it costs $2,900 and is made from incredible sumptuous cashmere.” Does that mean his clothes are derivative? Or, worse, not terribly new? There’s no denying Mr Jacobs is a compelling stylist, adept at capturing cultural moments and putting out campy compositions. Beyond that, we leave it to you to decide.

Photos (top): Getty Images; (catwalk): indigital.tv

When Will The Pussy Bow Bow Out?

The Pussy Bow Stays

By Mao Shan Wang

Tell a straight man that you’ll be wearing a pussy bow top and see how delighted he would be. This was overheard in a lift a week ago:

Woman, who looked like Daria and sounded like Chen Liping: “I’m going to wear my pussy blouse (sic) for tomorrow’s dinner.”

Man, who looked like Ben Yeo and sounded like Chua Enlai: “Is that what they’re called these days. Dear, I’m cool if you don’t wear any.” A grin followed.

No, I didn’t laugh, but I was, admittedly, amused. Some words are indeed indispensable when the wrong idea is not desired or solicited. Never have I thought that a floppy bow—considered the epitome of femininity—can be the object of cheeky, masculine delight. Fashion nomenclature: an update is in order?

It is unfortunate that one of the most popular styles of recent times has to share a name with domestic cats and, goodness forbids, a woman’s you-know-what. I have been warned by more than one dictionary that “when referring to a woman, pussy is perceived as insulting”. It’s understandable why flowers such as Rose and Daisy and Violet are frequently picked as girl’s names, even Cherry Blossom, but never Pussy Willow.

I am not quite sure how the bow really got such a moniker even when people have tried convincing me that it is named after bows tied round the necks of cats. If so, why not kitty bow? I mean, no one calls a cat’s latrine pussy litter!

Okay, there will be no end to this. Personally, I prefer tie-neck, but that sounds like strangulation, or, seriously, erotic asphyxiation. So, for this article, and to be consistent with what everyone else calls it, I shall stick to pussy, er, pussy bow.

YSL thru the agesFrom left: Yves Saint Laurent’s pussy bow blouse from 1966, the pussy bow again in 1968, and Hedi Slimane’s take in 2013. Photos: Yves Saint Laurent and Saint Laurent Paris

When Hedi Slimane (re)introduced the pussy bow for his debut collection at Saint Laurent—spring/summer 2013, followed by others, I had thought that it would not be a long-lived trend. The said bow has appeared season after season since. After watching the live stream of Marc Jacobs’s autumn/winter 2016 show, I know I was very wrong about its brief cheery life. The pussy bow is becoming a style cliché faster than you can tie one.

How long does a trend last before it dims? I am not sure anyone really knows anymore. Trend forecasters typically say a year, but look at cut-off denim shorts or skinny jeans: they’re still around, aren’t they? Hasn’t it been 10 or more years since they appeared? Wasn’t Kate Moss a child when she wore and popularised them? Demand—also weather, some will say, in the case of those ubiquitous shorts—certainly keeps some trends screen-on always.

It is not surprising that Marc Jacobs would introduce the pussy bow post-Louis Vuitton. Mr Jacobs has always flirted with the ’70s and mined the era’s fashion staples as people would with gold, a habit as regular as it is unsurprising. Fashion’s unrelenting romance with retro or the ‘vintage-y’ helps keep the practice alive. Retailers are happy to play along because, as one buyer told me, it’s giving  those who did not have the opportunity to indulge in items such as the pussy bow blouse the first time round (since they were not born!) a chance. She didn’t say that it is also to give their business another stab at selling to the now-larger critical mass.

Gucci AW 2015Gucci’s Alessandro Michele showed pussy bows for men before women for autumn/winter 2015

The pussy bow really caught on because of Gucci. Alessandro Michele first hinted (not at all discreetly) at its resurgence when he showed them on men at his very first collection for the Italian house, presented in January last year, reportedly designed in less than a week. (His appointment was not officially announced until after that show).

I’m not sure if Gucci’s pussy bows help men cut a dashing figure, but on guys, they are nothing terribly new, given that its predecessor, the cravat, has been around since the 17th Century—its genesis can be traced to a military unit called Croats or Crabats that fought against the Ottoman Empire. There was even a style that went by the rather masculine name Steinkirk, worn deliberately messy, as if as a badge of undisputed machismo.

The Gucci shirts that Mr Michele showed were thought to be ‘blousy’. That, to me, is quite in keeping with the Gucci DNA. Since Tom Ford’s silk shirts of the mid-’90s, worn unbuttoned as if men have deep-set cleavage, Gucci has been making chemises that women have no qualms wearing too. Blousy is not a post-Noughties trend; it’s a renascent interest.

Gucci men's pussy bow shirtAn Instagram screen grab of Gucci’s autumn/winter 2015 campaign featuring a man’s pussy bow shirt

Gucci pussy bow blouse ss 2016Gucci’s spring/summer 2016 campaign with more pussy bow blouses posted on Instagram

Mr Michele’s follow-up women’s collection, too, featured pussy bows, and the clothes were so successful that CEO Marco Bizzarri told Business of Fashion that the line will not be marked down. Not on sale: now, that’s news! Gucci pussy bows were protected from ending up on indiscriminate necks.

Despite the pussy bow’s connection to an iron lady and its association with ’80s suit-wearing careerists, its appeal has not been jeopardised by its own old-fashion bearing. This is, in part, due to Gucci’s interpretation—mainly in diaphanous fabrics that do not appear to choke you up in a bunch of fabric, and, also owing to the continual love for all clothes ultra-feminine. There isn’t really a modern take on sartorial femininity, so we plunder our grandmother’s wardrobe.

Even without a sale at Gucci, the demand for pussy bows increased. The filter-down effect was accelerated into a gush. Just as I thought the ‘It’ blouse was not going to survive another season, Marc Jacobs sent more out so that the pussy bow won’t renounce its catwalk prominence. This craze has gone beyond reasonable optimism. When will it come to an end, like all good things do? Well that depends on you, doesn’t it?

Can American Designers Ever Get Over Disco And Studio 54?

The New York nightclub Studio 54 opened from 1977 until 1980. It was, at its heyday, the epitome of hedonism and a hotbed of sexually-charged fashions. Thirty five years after it closed, Studio 54 continues to influence American designers. Often times, the club’s sexy, hang-loose, and attention-grabbing attitude feed the imprint of their DNA. It is as if the Seventies never left

 

Tom Ford SS 2016 P3You Should Be Dancing: Tom Ford’s fashion video for spring/summer 2016. Screen grab: Youtube

The Seventies is a distant past, but is it really behind us? Taste may have forgotten that decade, but designers certainly have not. The influence of the Seventies in the many years that came after was so relentless that until now, we’re still looking at the period as if Ali Magraw had not been dethroned as fashion icon. Like first love, the Seventies is hard to forget.

Similarly, Studio 54, the epicentre of the era, when nothing succeeded like access, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, has not left the collective memory of so many designers, especially those from or based in New York. Short-lived yet long remembered, Studio 54 was home to the styles and the antics so audacious for the time that many who had lived through it and those who have not, still want a piece of it. One memorable caper, however, turned out to be a fallacy, denting the club’s mythic standing: Bianca Jagger was reported to have arrived at Studio 54 on a white horse, but as she told the Financial Times in April this year, she had, in fact mounted a horse that was already there. “Mick Jagger and I walked into Studio 54,” she insisted.

With or without a white stud sending guests into the club, equally striking sequins and high shine took centrestage at Studio 54. Robert Isabell—the famed event planner and floral designer who conceptualised more than one Kennedy wedding—was so inspired by it all that he inundated the club’s floor at one New Year’s Eve party with four inches of glitter. That’s the height of heels! As Ian Schrager—one half of the duo that started the club in 1977—told the New York Times, it was “standing on stardust”..

Gucci by Tom Ford's images for AW 2004Louche luxe: Gucci by Tom Ford’s images for autumn/winter 1996/97. Photos: Gucci

Fast-forward to the present: Tom Ford’s fashion video for spring/summer 2016. It was published (and posted—YouTube, naturally) in place of a runway fashion show. While no stardust was sprinkled, the Nick Knight-directed video’s nod to the Seventies wouldn’t escape even those who have never felt the heat of Disco Inferno. The somewhat bare studio in which it was shot, as well as the overall monochrome does not betray the Soul Train inspiration. Flanked by dancers, the models sashayed on a catwalk of lit, moving oblongs to Lady Gaga’s remake of Chic’s I Want Your Love. The singer appears in the video too, dancing in her usual Mother Monster way, circa 2010. It is nothing like what you’ll see on an actual Tom Ford catwalk. It’s all very dedicated-to-the-Seventies-but-let’s-make-it-cooler.

Looking back has always been fashion’s fixation. While fashion tends to vacillate between then and now, increasingly it’s wedged in then and then. To interpret the past is really reliving the past. Tom Ford may have put out a video worthy of more than a million views, but it is hard to determine if the slick performance is salute or parody, or living a dream. Perhaps, it even warrants a “not again” since Mr Ford’s obsession with the Seventies goes back to the early years of his reign at Gucci.

When Kate Moss opened the Gucci autumn/winter 1996 season with smoky eyes, military coat, silk shirt unbuttoned to the naval, and wide-legged pants, you kind of knew what to expect. By the time those velvet suits came out, you’re clear where they would lead you to. As soon as the first of those six white, silk jersey dresses appeared in the end, the deal was sealed. Tom Ford’s adoration of the Seventies was, finally, homage to Halston, the disco-era fashion giant whose ultrasuede shirt-dresses and slinky silk jersey gowns won the admiration of the stars of the day such as Margaux Hemingway and Angelica Huston.

Studio 54 in New York06 Mar 1978: outside Studio 54. Photo © Michael Norcia/Sygma/Corbis

Halston’s legacy, as journalist Robin Givan rightly pointed out, is in Tom Ford, who revelled in the Halston aesthetic and projected himself to be a social prince akin to the nocturnal prince that Halston was. Tom Ford’s bearing pointed to Studio 54, the party central where Halston spent tremendous amount of time with his pals Liza Minnelli and Bianca Jagger. Tom Ford was still a student then, studying interior architecture at Parsons School of Design. He was also known to frequent Studio 54, where he danced out of the closet and was drawn to older men. It is not clear if he met Halston at all—he was more into trailing handsome Calvin Klein, but Halston’s persona and his glamorous clique had a profound effect on Tom Ford.

Studio 54 created an insatiable desire to party. It was a vortex that sucked people in—famous and not-at-all alike. The other regular was Marc Jacobs, who was reported to have had brought his high school books along in order to depart the club immediately the morning after for class. It wasn’t just the catchy danceable music; it was also the cohort, addled by cocaine, that made you feel mighty real, as sung with palpable delirium by Sylvester. Marc Jacobs was energised by what he saw, even when it was reportedly mostly debaucherous behaviour.

Although Marc Jacobs had leaned on the side of Seventies iconography in his post-grunge years, he pronounced “I heart Seventies” most fervently in his spring/summer 2011 collection. With frizzy hair and kohled eyes, the models strutted unto the catwalk as if just released from a Guy Bourdin shoot. While the close-to-peasant-dresses where a wink to Yves Saint Laurent, everything else could have been Studio 54 all over again, intensified for a social media-ready audience. It was all dressed up with, you sensed, somewhere to go… even if it that place existed only in memory.

Marc Jacobs SS 2011Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough: Marc Jacob’s spring/summer 2011 collection. Photos:GoRunway.com

LV SS 2011 adHot stuff: Louis Vuitton’s ad campaign for spring/summer 2011. Photo: Louis Vuitton

Love can manifest itself as obsession. As if with his own show wasn’t enough, Marc Jacobs projected the vibe of the Seventies onto his advertising campaigns for Louis Vuitton as well. Lensed by Steven Meisel, the photographs showed models Kristen McMenamy, Freja Beha, and Raquel Zimmermann in set pieces that seemed to acknowledge the influence of the marketing of Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium perfume of 1977. The latter, shot in Saint Laurent’s own Rue de Babylone apartment—in the Buddha Room—by Helmut Newton, saw Jerry Hall ensconced in dim surroundings of plush cushions and cascades of white phalaenopsis. It hinted at nothing particularly Oriental or narcotic, but it did suggest a prelude to something carnal.

Marc Jacobs, installed at Louis Vuitton, had become one of the most feted designers in the world. He had no need to play down his love for a decade that spawned one of the most influential dance clubs of all time, even when a decade and a half earlier in Milan, a fellow American had grooved to a similar beat. He celebrated it—revisiting the visual excesses of the era, allowing artifice to override design. Is it a wonder then that some people think Marc Jacobs, like his compatriot Tom Ford, is more a talented stylist than a brilliant designer?

Studio 54, however, wasn’t the only club that made a mark during the peak of disco. Across the Atlantic, in Paris specifically, Le Palace was the discotheque du jour after the success of Le Sept, a spot that drew the glittery set of the Paris beau monde—both the brainchild of “Prince of the Night” Fabric Emaer. Housed in a 9th arrondissement theatre, Le Palace was opened a year after Studio 54 in 1978. While the latter was frequented by America’s top designers—Halston, Calvin Klein, Diane von Furstenberg, Le Palace was honoured by the best of Paris: Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Kenzo. And in place of Bianca Jagger riding a horse was a lithe Grace Jones singing La Vie En Rose astride a pink Harley!

Tom Ford SS 2016 P2I want your love: Lady Gaga in Tom Ford’s fashion video for spring/summer 2016. Screen grab: Youtube

Despite the excesses comparable to Studio 54’s, Le Palace did not have the same sway over French designers as Studio 54 did over the Americans. Yves Saint Laurent was influenced by pop culture, so did Karl Lagerfeld, but their work, unlike their New York counterparts’, was tempered by a tradition known as haute couture. Their designs, despite occasionally leaning towards the street, always had an air of elegance, a generous dose of refinement. Today, no French house banks on the sartorial derring-do of Le Palace to forge ahead.

Studio 54, as with most legends, died before its time was up. In 1980, owners Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell were charged with tax evasion. Both pleaded guilty and were sent to 13 months in jail. On the club’s last night of operation, Diana Ross sang for the offenders. Thirty five years after the last dance, Studio 54 lives on in the hands of Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs, and countless others. As Gloria Gaynor sang hopefully in 1978, “I will survive.”

With The Write Company

Fourteen years ago, Louis Vuitton launched a series of bags that would dramatically elevate the status of the brand’s staid Monogram canvas. And all it took was to deface the signature fabric with graffiti writing. Today, scribbled text across perfectly respectable surfaces continue to make loud fashion statements

Stephen Sprouse Graffiti on Monogram Canvas

Close-up of Stephen Sprouse’s graffiti on Louis Vuitton’s Monogram Canvas in 2001

Handwriting has a long history, but anthropologists and educators now declare that it belongs to the past. Their proclamation may not be so overstated. Texting with a keyboard—physical or virtual—is, after all, more prevalent than putting pen to paper. Yet, high tech has a knack of reviving the interest in the low tech it replaces. If you look at the resurgence of the long playing record despite the popularity of digital downloads, there’s hope that hand-penned lettering may not entirely be replaced by fonts of electronic lineage. No matter how popular Brandon Grotesque may still be, free-form handwriting is not losing out. In fact, the less orderly, the less uniform, and the less rigid the handwriting, the more appealing they are. And no other industry love scrawls and scribbles more than fashion. Graffiti has a soul mate.

If credit must be given to he who merits it, then Marc Jacobs deserves to be commended for popularising handwriting-as-pattern, bringing toilet-stall shorthand and neon warehouse-wall inscriptions to fashion’s hallowed grounds. Back in 2001, Mr Jacobs collaborated with Stephen Sprouse to breathe new life to Louis Vuitton’s Monogram canvas. Created in 1896 for the making of luggage, LV’s signature patterned fabric had become, a century later, a reminder of faded glories and a way of travel no longer preferred. What Mr Sprouse did to the Monogram canvas with his almost-naïve lettering not only gave it street cred, which LV needed rather badly at that time, it also gave it shock value. No one could imagine such irreverence. The aesthetic blow was a punch to the taste of the soignée set, but to the young consumer group (Gen X?), it was an appealing sock to a design institution. It wasn’t just graffiti writing, it was script in neon, and it was confrontational and attention-grabbing, and to its detractors, it fed into the vacuity of capitalist consumerism.

Louis Vuitton's Graffiti collectionTop left, Louis Vuitton X Stephen Sprouse Speedy 30 bag. Top right, Louis Vuitton store in New York’s Soho during the launch of the Graffiti series. Below: Marc Jacobs posed in the nude for New York Magazine in 2008

Mr Jacobs, installed at Louis Vuitton during the frantic brand revivalism of the Nineties, would later tell the press that he did receive instructions not to defile LV’s iconic motifs, but, unsurprisingly, he wasn’t one to follow decrees. Whether this was an act of disaffection or strutting on a whim, it was hard to tell. Always in tune with the pop culture of any given time, Mr Jacobs would pluck from the zeitgeist of the past with total abandon to infuse his designs with more than a whiff of long-gone vice and excesses. Some think this is his true talent. He told the Guardian in a 2009 interview of the first Stephen Sprouse fashion show he attended in 1984, aged 21: “It was like a rock concert. Deafening hardcore rock… the audience was downtown club-kids sitting next to Vogue and New York Times fashion editors. It was the first time that had happened in New York.” The first is always the most unforgettable, and 17 years later, he would pluck Stephen Sprouse out of obscurity and introduce street lettering to Parisian fashion.

Mr Sprouse was, at that time, an out-of-full-time-practice “cult” fashion designer—trained at Halston, but much associated with Day-Glo (colours) of the Eighties, and known among pop royalty as the designer of rock costumes, such as those for Duran Duran’s 1989 Big Thing tour (interestingly, before he became a full-fledge designer, he made clothes for the punk-pop ingénue Debby Harry, who was a downstairs neighbour). Mr Sprouse may have brought punk and fluorescence and downtown vibe together, but his approach and quality were steep in traditional dressmaking. His friends, who had the privilege of wearing his custom-made clothes, knew, for example, that he used Norman Norell’s tailor. Regrettably, design skill and business savvy wasn’t the downtown cool and uptown chic that Mr Sprouse had successfully paired. In 1985, much to the shock of the disco set that worshipped him, he declared bankruptcy.

Stephen Sprouse

Stephen Sprouse

Under the auspices of Louis Vuitton and with those bags he vandalised, Stephen Sprouse (left) became known as a “graffiti designer”, a title that belied his true legacy as a fashion designer since he used graffiti as an element of design, not quite as a style of art such as those of working graffiti artists Lee Quiñones and Keith Haring. The collaboration emerged at a time when graffiti art was becoming increasingly mainstream; facilitated by the rapid rise of rap music. Graffiti visually expresses rap (and, the related hip hop) just as breaking physically articulates it. The influence of graffiti art on rap music—or pop music—goes as far back as the late Seventies, when in 1979, Blondie’s music video for the single Rapture (in which Debbie Harry raps somewhat unconvincingly) featured Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Vivienne Westwood jacket

A jacket from Vivienne Westwood’s ‘Witches’ collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum

While the result of the Jacobs-Sprouse partnership appeared headily new at that time, fashion observers across the Atlantic thought it déjà vu. In the Autumn/Winter season of 1983, Vivienne Westwood and one-time partner and co-designer Malcolm McLaren hatched a conceptually strong collection with hip-hop overtones called ‘Witches’. The idea came about after meeting Keith Haring in New York. Ms Westwood found Mr Haring’s drawings to be “a magical, esoteric sign language” and was keen to use them as prints for that season’s collection. The separates—characterised by oversized tops—were etched with Mr Haring’s distinctive graffiti. The British design duo was, however, no stranger to defacement graphics. In 1975, they renamed at existing shop of theirs—Let It Rock—to Sex! Situated at the suitably named World’s End on London’s King’s Road, it was fronted by its name in pink rubber letters, 1.2 metres high! Inside, graffiti of pornographic images ravished the walls. It was totally in keeping with Sex’s maxim: “Craft must have clothes but truth loves to go naked”. ‘Witches’ was the last collection jointly designed by Ms Westwood and Mr McLaren.

While fashion and music played down the social nuisance that graffiti represented, on our shores, graffiti in the guise of art did not take a grip of our pop consciousness since it was not condone by our government, at least not in public spaces, where the presence of graffiti would be considered vandalism (since 1994, an American, a Swiss and two Germans have found out the painful way). In 2001, Louis Vuitton changed how we saw graffiti, and illustrated graffiti’s relevance and parity to modern fashion via its bags. In no time, graffiti’s social standing and creative value were elevated. And since it was not unlawful to have graffiti on your handbag (always private property whether in the shop or in your hand), women thronged the LV stores to acquire one (or more), only to be told that there were sold out.

By many accounts, the collection enjoyed a 100 percent sell-through, and it was reported that the Speedy 30 travelling bag alone enjoyed sales in excess of USD300 million in its first year. Mr Sprouse died of lung cancer in 2004, three years after the collaboration, but Louis Vuitton continued to produce the Graffiti series in the six years that followed. Mr Jacobs was so thrilled with its success (including latter reiterations) that he would appear in a series of LV print ads with nothing more than graffiti scrawled all over his body. Only an adequately sized, graffiti-covered Keepall protected his modesty. Who could have known that the defacement of an iconic fabric would prove so wildly lucrative for what, at that time, was still essentially a bag brand?

Longchamp X Jeremy Scott Le PliageLongchamp X Jeremy Scott’s makeover of the luggage label’s best-selling Le Pliage bag

Following in Marc Jacob’s footsteps is Jeremy Scott, whose appropriation of popular icons in madcap ways has elevated him to a position that few designers using classical motifs can reach. His latest in a long collaboration with Longchamp sees the Le Pliage bag that he favours smothered with glyphs of the zodiac in Halloween orange. Rihanna was one of the first to carry this version even before it hit the stores. Le Pliage, one of the most knocked off brand-name bags (just explore Bugis Street market), is Longchamp’s most successful product. Introduced in 1993 by Philippe Cassegrain (son of founder Jean Cassegrain), who also designed the bag, Le Pliage’s success can be traced to two attributes not always evident in luxury products: undeniable practicality and attractive price. The early issues of Le Pliage, if you look back now, were the antithesis of the IT bag, and were attractive to women who did not need her handbag to define her. But the simplicity of its design easily lends itself to counterfeiting. With lookalikes flooding the market, Longchamp’s iconic tote no longer enjoyed the advantage of a charmed genesis.

Jeremy Scott for Moschino SS 2015

Jeremy Scott for Moschino SS 2015

If the Monogram canvas needed a jolt of new life, Le Pliage’s unexciting nylon, too, required creative tempering. Jeremy Scott, the American designer who placed teddy bears on Adidas sneakers and gave Moschino’s cross-body bag the shape of McDonald’s French fry cup, is the guy to do just that. Mr Scott has been prescribing makeovers for the Le Pliage since 2006. True to his penchant for plastering the low brow onto high style, he made Longchamp’s star bag a canvas on which to transfer his goofy graphics: from holiday postcards to the ugly faces of the Eighties’ cartoon series Madballs. But graffiti has always been on the mind of Mr Scott, whose popularity among hip hop stars has never waned. Le Pliage’s latest face is possibly an extension of what he did at the house of Moschino for the current spring/summer season: red-carpet-worthy gowns are fashioned out of fabrics with graffiti that look like it has been transposed from abandoned buildings in certain seedy American neighbourhood. To some, this is the genius of Jeremy Scott: the knack for celebrating his own national identity through sneaky Americanisation of European brands.

Sebastian Lester S

Sebastian Lester’s calligraphic art

The popularity of handwritten text has also been boosted by the viral sharing of the work of the English typographer and calligrapher Sebastian Lester. One of the most popular blogs on YouTube is Mr Lester’s hand-drawn calligraphy, in particular the one that shows him illustrating recognisable logotype with a broad-tip pen (at last check, the post hit 1,276, 049 views, not counting the reposts and shares). That a video that’s not about a pop star twerking or someone’s pet doing something painfully silly could ensnare more than a million hits attests to both Mr Lester’s amazing skill and the elegance of lettering by hand. Mr Lester has shown that unadulterated handwriting can make beautiful art. Technology may make work for most of us easier, but, in the end, our hands still easily make the best work.

Longchamp X Jeremy Scott ‘Zodiac’ Le Pliage travel bag, SGD440, is available at Longchamp stores