Dancing into Fall

Hannah Betts selects a fabulous, gloom-defying autumn wardrobe


This article was taken from the September issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering three issue for just £5.

September. Normally, I would be running up some sort of La Rentrée special. Back to school, autumnal longings, the unstructured crapness of August giving way to the stupendous costume drama that is autumn. Cashmere, velvet, lace — go, fashion bitches, go!

For summer chic is a misnomer, August marking the flight from style into limp, boho practicality. The sole structured guise remains “middle-class for Ryanair,” that Cary-Grant-does-Capri linen and panama hat pastiche that passes for bucket-flight elegance. However, that only really works for travelling. Once one is in situ, the whole thing dissolves into pitiable droop.

The beat of sun on limb may be amusing for a couple of hours in May; by the dog days of August, it has atrophied into shabby tedium. Hence the joy of Planet Fashion’s September issues: a return to thought, tailoring, flights of epic fancy; actual, bona fide clothes.

Fashion has had the guts ripped out of it

And so: La Rentrée. Only, this year, what are we returning to? The great glut of the population never went away in the first place, autumn demanding the transition from summer sweatpantery to winter sweatpantery. Amid the cancellations, a good many Autumn/Winter 2020-21 catwalk shows did take place back in the spring: even in Milan, which experienced a panicked shutdown; then Paris, where the finale to fashion’s month-long touring hoopla took place amid mounting horror.

Certain discernible themes emerged: checks (again); black (no shit); riotous red; colour blocking; capes; maxi coats; “arm drama” (nutjob shoulders, nutjob sleeves, and/or opera gloves); Whatever Happened to Baby Jane-style doll dressing; a leather trench, Matrix-y fetishist vibe; ruffles; tassels; velvet. If one were seeking a seasonal icon, it would be Miss Marple meets Disney’s Maleficent. And, yet, as ever of late, there was a general eschewing of Trends in favour of seasonlessness, sustainability and group-hug inclusivity.

That’s the theory. In practice, fashion has had the guts ripped out of it, or, as British Vogue editor Edward Enninful put it in a lockdown interview with designer Marc Jacobs: “The industry’s infrastructure has been completely dismantled.”

Jacobs’s own celebrated autumn collection has not been put into production: materials were unavailable; staff prevented from creating it; department stores no longer being around to sell it; buyers too housebound to want to wear it; with no dry cleaners to replenish it, if they had.

Jacobs was penned up in New York’s Mercer Hotel: a caged showgirl complete with a couple of cases of clothes, two bags of slap, assorted platform shoes, a string of pearls, and sundry hair clips.

His adoring public followed him on Instagram as he painted his nails and eyelids, posed in his pants, bootblacked his hair, and danced with his dogs. Sometimes he got his swag on to “I Am What I Am,” other times he vaped into the abyss, fashion’s everybitch watching his world go down in flames.

However, our hero is not merely fashion’s everybitch, he is also Marc Fucking Jacobs, one of the industry’s most cherished creators of sartorial “moments”, for which read epochs/eras. Grunge, for instance — he did that. As such, he gave great Zoom interview not once, but twice during lockdown, first with Enninful, then The Business of Fashion’s Tim Blanks: a total of 73 minutes musing on fashion’s future.

In the main, he agreed with the consensus that the corona crisis would merely exacerbate processes already started: exhaustion in the face of grotesque over-production, and the swallowing up of the planet in the rag trade’s ravenous maw.

On the other hand, he declared himself in mourning, “grieving the process I knew”. Oracle that he is, Jacobs appears to have seen this coming. Witness the Magda Archer collaboration he so presciently released in February, emblazoned with frolicking lambs plus the legend “My Life is Crap,” as sported by [scream] Harry Styles.

Still, the show must go on — somehow, kind of — and he and Blanks also discussed Jacobs’s love of fashion as theatre, life as theatre. “We’ll always dance,” this beautiful hoofer assured Blanks, who offered up the Nietzschean “We have art so we do not die of reality.” Even in isolation, Jacobs, a manic-depressive, bolstered his sanity with the playing out of characters, thereby anchoring his own.

Accordingly, as I drag/dance my way into September, I will not be satisfied with the role of Peri-menopausal Dog Lady. Instead, I will amuse myself cobbling together some of the identities from Jacobs’s as yet uncreated show. Meet: Nineties’ Dickensian Street Urchin, Eloise in Paris, and New York Politician’s Wife Steps Out for an Affair!

I’ll don prim coats, opera gloves, boxy bouclé jackets, school-uniform greys, capes, rosettes, kitten heels with ankle socks, hats, caps, moody blues, Peter-Pan collars, Mary Janes, pencil skirts, monochrome, ingenue pullovers and fabulous slivers of silver, topped off with stupendous great bows. (The latter didn’t actually feature, but the sainted Marc just loves himself a scarf.)

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