The Lexington Avenue Armory is bathed in a roseate glow, the structural columns are draped in quilted, buttoned ivory fabric worthy of a fifties boudoir, and there are red velvet programs on the seats. All of which lead you to believe that Marc Jacobs is about to offer a sort of mid-century pink-poodle version of fashion.
But wrong are you. The lights come up, and here is what the models are wearing: scaly rubber skirts and S/M-ish trousers accessorized with flat vinyl miniature beanie/berets chin-strapped onto their pretty heads. Admit it — your first thought is, “I hate this.” After all, you were expecting something wriggly and soft, not these hard-edged, almost militaristic clothes. But after twenty or so outfits, the strict tailoring — tailleurs that rely on a surfeit of plastic and polyester; accessories that appear to be made from the hide of a Dalmatian whose spots have grown too large — you begin to maybe like it a little better. Which is part of Marc’s gift — and what makes all really good designers interesting: They can turn your assumptions upside down, and you walk away not knowing exactly what you think — is this pretty ugly, or jolie laide?
Marc’s penchant for theatricality is shared by Thom Browne, who shot to fame as a menswear designer promulgating a shrunken Pee-Wee Herman aesthetic — too-short sleeves and trousers; tiny cardigan sweaters with grosgrain ribbon details and stratospheric prices. He’s famous for elaborate conceptual presentations, and this season he decided to show his women’s collection in a room at the New York Public Library that he has reconceived as a church, with long library tables lit with candles serving as altars. Two priests from the cult of Browne, clad in shorts and kneesocks, are charged with literally defrocking a bevy of “nuns” — a.k.a. models dressed in wimples and habits so oversize they look like burkas crossed with garment bags.
When the habits come off, the models are wearing mismatched plaids suits with too-short cuffs and charming coat/capes decorated with tricolored ribbon bows. One woman has been hiding a huge bird-cage-slash-skirt made of grosgrain under her habit, and you cannot help but think that perhaps this nutty extravagance is meant as an homage to Adrian Joffe, the president of Comme des Garçons, who is in the audience.
Browne isn’t the only one with an affection for short pants. Olivier Theyskens, the European wild child who has lately taken charge of all things Theory (an unlikely pairing, to put it mildly), sends his first model out clad in a pair of what we used to call hot pants under an extra-long flappy coat. Almost everything here is gray, beige, or black — not a criticism — and there is also a lot of fluttery chiffon, whose emergence as a winter fabric is as odd as Olivier helming this particular house. A striking ankle-length black leather mean-girl skirt, pure Theyskins, sets me wondering about the significance of all the ground-grazing garments on the runways this season.
If there is any truth to the old saw known as the hemline index, which argues that skirt lengths echo the economy — short when the market is up; down when the bears come out — then we are in for some stormy financial, and sartorial, days ahead.
On second thought — at this very moment the economy still sucks, but the market is thriving. Maybe we should be wearing handkerchief hems instead?
See the full collections here.