I was surprised by the general media reaction to this collection, which was almost mesmerizingly narrow and reductive, jabbering along the lines of, "Ooh, an American in Paris! Look, she's in Mumbai! And now Shanghai!" Yes, in a small number of pieces, Jacobs imposed American ginghams, aprons, and severe Victorian-prudish patterning over some discerning Grand Tour purchases. And granted, he did it with fine taste and wit, but his dubbing suffers in comparison to his (I insist) actual inspiration, the admirably DIY and feverishly inventive Steampunk movement in the U.S.. Instead, Jacobs' central and most admirable achievement in Spring '09 is in what Horyn of the Times casually sidelines as a "black aesthetic." Really, it is so much more than that, both in scope and power: for it is suitable, even optimized, for a wide, multi-ethnic range of stylish American women; and rather than being high design dumbed-down it brings a new intelligence to the runway, the street's reinvention of a Jazz Age style, first seen in the late-night lounges of West Indian Brooklyn. It is a style that, finally, is worthy of the exotic, subtle, and real sexuality found in the most enviable women of my city. Tracy Reese was first among the major designers to explore similar patterns and prints; but Jacobs is the one who figured out how to open the throttle.
To see what I mean, turn down the Gershwin soundtrack Jacobs played on the runway, start up a bass-heavy Haitian beat!
I like the use of pop-blue to allow the young and fair to carry off a Black Renaissance look as well.
And the colors don't always have to be emerald-greens, oranges, or browns (you can almost picture the stylists at some shows saying, "ooh, let's put that on the black model!") to look good on non-Eastern European models. Here, of course, it still works on that type of model too - an adaptability that explains Jacob's commercial success. For me, this jumped out of the movie set of "Bride and Prejudice," a Bollywood take on Jane Austen from a few years back (I love how he achieves this with just the structure of the dress, not overkilling it with a subcontinental print). And I'd recommend it for so many of my woman friends who fear they have to look washed-out and wasted-frame to draw eyes like the female lead in a romantic movie.
I'll show a few Jacobs Steampunk shots here.
Don't get me wrong, there is a healthy direction to what he's doing here. Steampunk was a great way to save the best of the back-to-the-land movement when it became cheapened and orthodox on the streets of Williamsburg and the Sodermalm. It saved the individuality, handicraft, and ideals of DIY with a bit of comic-book flash, that Jacobs shows here in dashes of bright yellow and red. I'm also guessing that Jacobs watched coverage of the police raid on the Yearning for Zion polygamist ranch in Texas this past spring, and was fascinated like many of us with the women's throwback hair and dress. However, a source of fascination is not always worthy of aesthetic emulation. I suppose another benefit of the trend, though, is it allows you to play dress-up with a seemingly new level of immunity from caricature. Thus, in the first photo, on a day when you imagine yourself plunged into the moors while running heartbroken along a Prince Edward Island coastline, like a modern-day Anne of Avonlea, or even if you're just convinced your body has been possessed by the haunted soul of Strawberry Shortcake, take heart: no one will accuse you of costume drama. Just the fashion kind. And fashion drama, in my book, when executed well and sincerely, is never bad.