Lost in Fantasy

Models walk the runway during the Marc Jacobs spring 2007 fashion show in New York
Models for Marc Jacobs make their way through an alluring theatrical setting meant to seduce the audience into believing the designs, however unrealistic, are truly wearable. (Diane Bondareff -- AP)
By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 14, 2006


Designer Marc Jacobs transformed the Lexington Avenue Armory into a seaside dreamscape Monday night. His theatrical backdrop evoked a horizon of undulating sand dunes. Rather than amble down an industrial catwalk, his models meandered along a "boardwalk" of uneven planks of weathered wood. Just below them, a sea of pale blue spearmint candies stood in for the tides.

As the models sauntered, Pachelbel's Canon in D, with its familiar hypnotic cello, played in the background. Jacobs's models wore spring versions of his lush fall layers: ivory cotton jackets, sheer skirts and tunics decorated with glittering polka dots, sandals with rock crystal heels and voluminous dhoti-style trousers. His shorts had scalloped hems, recalling the curves of a seashell. He wrapped one model in a pale green swath of organza and tulle that made her look like she'd emerged from the sea covered in its airy foam.

For 15 minutes or so, Jacobs made his audience believe in his vision. The lapses in logic, practicality and even, on occasion, good taste did not matter.

Jacobs weaved such a fine tale that for a few moments, one was almost -- almost -- convinced that women will rush to wear trousers that resemble the droopy drawers made infamous by MC Hammer circa 1990. His fantasy was so tantalizing that one almost forgot that his first model down the runway found the glimmering sandals so difficult to walk in that she had to take them off. He even made you believe women will want to wear four or five layers of clothes in the summer.

Fantasy entertains. It brings a designer's vision to life. And ultimately it helps to sell the merchandise. When the magic works, the ridiculous seems logical. And ugly clothes can appear elegant.

The fantasy doesn't have to be elaborate. It can be as simple as unveiling a collection in a loft space to quietly suggest that the designs should be assessed as art and not merely attire. Removing it from the commercial environment of Bryant Park, the official home of New York's Fashion Week, makes clear that a collection is not so much about practicality and accessibility but rather creative virtuosity.

Designers are especially fond of the V-word: vision. It's a topic they discuss with regularity, and while it can be akin to a philosophy of dressing, it is more complicated than that. Vision is a way of seeing customers. It is an intricate fiction detailing how those customers move through the world. In fact, it is a way of defining the world.

The space, the environment, the music, the mood -- all must reflect a designer's vision so that the clothes can be better understood. Although it might behoove some designers to reconsider the notion of creating clothes that require a docent for people to make sense of them.

The menswear designer Thom Browne presented his spring collection in an art exhibition space -- uh-oh -- on Saturday afternoon. Browne is a tailor and has been influential in the current popularity, in some quarters, of a shrunken silhouette in men's suits. He was recently selected by Brooks Brothers to be a "guest designer" for the 188-year-old brand and will present a 50-piece collection for the company -- in addition to continuing to focus on his own label -- in fall 2007.

To debut his spring collection, he decided to collaborate on a film in lieu of producing a runway show. He worked with artist Anthony Goicolea to produce a 30-minute, dialogue-free film with the models/actors wardrobed in Browne's spring wares.

Browne offers uncompromising clothes for a man of certain tastes. His suits continue to be lean and short. For spring, he created a man's bustle -- a detachable flourish that is a vague reference to tails, the white-tie version, not the donkey kind -- that sits just beneath the double-vented back of his sober jackets. He pairs narrow walking shorts with blazers and uses details such as armbands to give his clothes the feel of a uniform that might be worn in an exceptionally austere boarding school.

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