Marc Jacobs should have been born Calvin Klein’s contemporary. Although the former has been criss-crossing decades as if they were time zones, it’s the Seventies that he seems glad to reside and plunder. Just a few weeks back, in New York, Mr Jacob’s own line appeared to be targeted at Studio 54’s now-faded habitués: Bianca Jagger, Margaux Hemmingway, Janice Dickson. In Paris yesterday, his time-travelling habit was not curtailed. And it was disco dolly as China doll that became, I dare say, the face of Louis Vuitton.
The opening sequence quickly set the tone. Caucasians, enamoured with rising China, now wants to move the partying (or Studio 54!) to, maybe, the Bund in Shanghai. But first, they would have to embrace Eastern exotica just as Carrie Bradshaw had taken on what she thought was French chic when visiting Paris for the first time: sailor top and beret!
Mr Jacobs did not hide his enthusiasm for Chinese costume details. The Mandarin collar, the contrast piping and frogging, the no-longer-thigh-high-but-navel-high slit (!), the gaudy satin, all so heady even Suzie Wong would find them too much; all applied on supposedly modern shapes, but with the same appeal as Luise Rainer playing the suffering farmer’s servant in the movie adaption of Pearl S Buck’s The Good Earth. They’re simply not convincing.
It’s been suggested that Mr Jacobs made a smart move as he was addressing a wildly burgeoning luxury market in China. If so, can he really be serious? Isn’t offering variations on the qipao akin to selling new-recipe noodles to the Chinese? (The French spearheaded the Chinoiserie movement in the 17th Century, but did the Chinese buy into it?) Which modern woman, whether they’re trying to make their mark in Beijing or Shanghai, wants to appear like a Westerner’s caricature of a post-Qing libertine? Or worse, look like they have been buying from a gift shop in Beijing’s gu gong? Yes, pandas are cute, but even when sequinned (or especially when sequinned!), they cannot escape the clutches of kitsch (a treatment Vivienne Tam has long ago employed). To me, the monochrome bear belongs to a zoo, bamboo forest or T-shirts that specifically seduce tourists.
When not in an Oriental mood, Mr Jacobs put the jazz age in the disco era. There were fringing galore (and glitter knits), all in colours that would delight dancers at a Tiffany show. Sheer lace, in line with Paris’s predilection for transparency this season, were applied to reveal skin–top, bottom, front, and back. There were even some dropped-waist tops worn with long bottoms that had more than a whiff of Poiret’s hobble skirts.
The disco stamp was applied so fiercely that I wonder what the clothes would look like when not worn under strobe lights. Iridescent square-cut, T-shaped tops looked freshly taken out of a Chinatown emporium. Zebra print dresses had the same pedigree as Roberto Cavalli’s cabana tunics. And a couple of pant suits seemed like an ode to Giorgio Armani’s take on Chinois-chic.
I have nothing against Orientalism. I just don’t dig the Madame Butterfly school of fashion design.