Listen to this article
Diffusion lines, those mid-point priced labels so popular in the 1990s, have become the industry albatross of late. Too confusing, too old-fashioned, too complicated: the category is today seen as an anti-millennial dinosaur in a retail climate in which people shop online and want brand purity.
At LVMH-part-owned Marc Jacobs, a new chief executive, the charismatic Sebastian Suhl, arrived last September. Suhl, an LVMH stalwart who helped steer another of the conglomerate’s brands, Givenchy, back into the black for two years before assuming this new role, has pushed forward a radical restructuring of the house.
With that has come a policy of reintegration and the repositioning of Marc Jacobs back at the label’s creative fore. In April, it was announced that the house’s diffusion line, Marc by Marc Jacobs, at the time overseen by designers Luella Bartley and Katie Hillier, would be incorporated back into the brand’s main line, Marc Jacobs, which would be made a multi-category label.
The Marc Jacobs SS16 show, then, was a fascinating exercise in rebranding, but one in which everything remained the same. Held in the Ziegfeld, Manhattan’s only surviving single-screen cinema and a gorgeous kitschy jewel-box of a venue, his collection was a seamless intertwining of the two propositions, refracted through the prism of classic Americana and off-Broadway bar-room glamour.
“That’s entertainment, baby,” announced Jacobs of an epic collection that took in all the tropes of Stateside-style and Jacobised them: varsity jackets were retooled into sweaters; baggy stonewashed denims were encrusted with diamond pins; bags spangled with stars and stripe sequins; there were Love Story-style blazers, On the Town-style sailor tops (yes!) and Haight-Ashbury hippy chiffons. A sequinned evening gown, with exaggerated square shoulders, served as a fitting tribute to Bette Midler, the collection’s unofficial muse. In a recent BBC documentary, Imagine, the singer had revisited her old haunts. The tour provided an unlikely starting point for Jacobs, who evoked the same smoke-filled nostalgia for New York. The Ziegfeld only added to the theatricality of it all.
It was a new vision for Marc Jacobs, but the joy of the show was in its merchandising. Every look here, with the exception of the last few evening dresses, comprised high-low price points: a T-shirt with a crystal encrusted jacket; a “moth-eaten sweater” with a sequinned plaid; denim culottes with a diamanté spun chiffon.
Suhl’s success at Givenchy was largely found in the expanded category of leisurewear, which brought a new monied elite youth to the brand. Jacobs has the youth: Marc by Marc accounted for about 70 per cent of the company sales. Did this show have enough polish to win back an older clientele? That remains to be seen. But it was a thrilling study of a New York state of mind.
Photograph: Gilbert Carrasquillo