New York Fashion Week ended as it began: in the 1980s. The time of Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America,” of Tom Wolfe’s Masters of the Universe, of Krystle Carrington and Alexis Colby has been experiencing something of a resurgence in the designer imagination. Well, you can understand it. It’s resurgent in Washington, too. “Dynasty” is back. So is “Working Girl.” Women’s empowerment is at the top of the public agenda.
It started last week with Tom Ford and Jeremy Scott, and Wednesday night, Marc Jacobs brought it home. Having introduced his brand smack in the middle of that decade, he has a right to nostalgia and his own memory room.
Yet, instead of a celebration, the result had the mood of a requiem. It wasn’t — and not just because the runway was structured like a long processional, with rows of chairs creating a dim corridor in the midst of the soaring Park Avenue Armory, the rest of the space left in shadow, or because the music was plaintive and spare.
But because of the clothes.
Because of the exaggerated coats with battering-ram shoulder pads that triangulated the body in the extreme, and looped with great swaths of scarves tossed around the neck. Because of the pleated leather clown trousers with giant taffeta and silk rosettes at the waist and blouses with matching out-to-there bows at the neck, all in a Cover Girl palette of ruby, hot pink, turquoise, marigold and grape.
The visual reference — down to the flat-brimmed black hats worn atop many of the looks (later in the show, dyed-to-match New Wave wigs) — was Yves Saint Laurent, The Later Years. There was also a pouf skirt, some quilted bags and a watercolor taffeta with a single giant ruffled sleeve. They were asymmetrical and overblown. Bombastic and a bit bomb-tastic.
Mr. Jacobs went there. Do we really want to follow?
These are the kind of effects that can cause fashion people to clutch their chests in delight — ooh, the pictures! — yet aside from a few body-con dresses buried amid the cartoon excess and one lovely strapless empire-waisted evening gown, the styles swamped the body, rendering it squatto. When a model appeared in a gray knit body suit and tights beneath a big-shouldered sweater, scarf ends like flying buttresses extending to the floor behind, it was hard not to wince at the extreme contrast between her upper body and her frail legs.
In case you needed reminding, things were not as good in the good old days as they can sometimes appear in hindsight — or as a politician might try to make them appear.
There has been a lot of speculation over the state of Mr. Jacobs’ business these days — stores are closing, a new designer has been hired to jump-start his lower-priced line — and this kind of show is not really calibrated to counter that narrative; it’s more like a thumb in the eye. The message was all about the silhouette and how a designer could manipulate it as opposed to any paean to the person inside. Look what I can do, Mr. Jacobs seemed to be saying. Remember that!