NEW YORK — “My folks were always putting him down / They said he came from the wrong side of town / They told me he was bad, but I knew he was sad / That’s why I fell for the leader of the pack.” Marc Jacobs was a one-year-old when the Shangri-Las sang the dissolute teenager anthem, “Leader of the Pack,” in 1964. But something of those gum-chewing bad girls, with their short tight skirts and their high hair, the bane of every high school principal, was clearly part of his immutable American inheritance.
At his quirky runway show last night, a week before the official start of New York Fashion Week, it was as if Mary Weiss, the Shangri-Las’ lead singer (she passed away a few weeks ago at the age of 75) had found her way to Tokyo and sat down to share a Marlboro with the notoriously taciturn Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons. Because alongside the fuzzy sweaters and straight skirts of those long-lost hoodlum princesses, under beehive wigs so nutty they recalled Priscilla Presley’s coiffure, were plenty of winks and nods to the house of Comme.
”Everyone is influenced by Comme des Garçons,” Jacobs once said. And indeed, here were the outrageous plays with proportion, jackets that looked like they could walk by themselves, chalk-white oversized bodices that stood away from the body, and short wide trousers permanently pinned, waiting for a phantom tailor who never arrives. In what was clearly an homage to Comme’s seminal “flat” collection of 2012, some of the ensembles echoed that show’s fierce commitment to the illusion of two-dimensionality. Can a paper doll lift her arms? Neither could many of these models, whose limbs were stuck out front — like cartoon Frankensteins — immobilised by the placement of their dauntingly long sleeves.
But not everything was infused with Rei’s spirit. Some models wore strict structured knee-grazing tailleurs decorated with big buttons that would have suited a Capote swan; others emerged in beautiful spangled frocks, worthy of a solo spot for Diana Ross on the Ed Sullivan show. Their newly liberated arms were in many cases alarmingly thin, a development that does not bode well for size inclusivity at the upcoming fashion month.
Shrunken shorts and sweatshirt combos in sticky lavender emblazoned with “Marc Jacobs” in rhinestones provided a welcome injection of cheerful vulgarity; Mary Jane shoes sported elfin upturned toes, and their wearers clomped under a giant table, wayward Alices in Wonderland with the personalities of Bratz dolls. (This installation, by the artist Robert Therrien, was on loan from the Buffalo AKG Art Museum.)
And indeed, sometimes trying to escape makes you feel like you are contorting yourself under the massive weight of psychic furniture, and other times, well, you just pack up and go. For this eventuality, Jacobs thoughtfully provided huge blown-out versions of his handbags. But these were not those plebeian canvas carryalls emblazoned with the self-congratulatory slogan “The Tote Bag Marc Jacobs” seen on college girls’ arms all over town. These runway satchels seemed intended for a woman who has time traveled back to the mid-1960s, carrying her earthly belongings with her to the nearest bus station, and heading to Carnaby Street or Avenue A, in search of a life lived long ago.