When did Marc Jacobs, erstwhile downtown darling turned New York fashion éminence grise, become a philosopher of the modern condition?
Maybe around the time he stepped off the show hamster wheel and out of the growth race and started adhering to his own schedule, unveiling his runway collections (which are sold only at Bergdorf Goodman) if and when he pleased, and in shapes that caught his fancy: reflections on the influence of Vivienne Westwood, the relationship between couture and streetwear.
And, on Monday, in a show at the New York Public Library, a three-minute meditation on the abbreviated attention span generated by our digital lives and the looming future of A.I.
Three minutes! Thirty seconds for the models — 29 of them — to march in one direction. Another 30 seconds for them to gather themselves again backstage. Thirty more seconds to march out again in the other direction. And then a minute or so at the beginning and end for people to realize what had just gone on.
To start scratching their heads and begin to giggle as it dawned on them that that was it. Done. See ya next time. That’s one way to redefine fast fashion.
Not to mention offer a bit of pointed commentary on just how quickly we consume imagery and ideas now that half of our brain is always caught in the endless scroll. Most of the audience hadn’t even had time to get out their phones before the whole thing was over. (Joke’s on who, then?)
To that end, it may have been Mr. Jacobs’s most conceptually ambitious show yet. And this is a designer who once built a train in the Louvre. In a time when collections are growing increasingly bloated — with 80 or more models, with elaborate sets and celebrity front rows and live music — as if to take up as much space and time as possible with live experience in order to justify their continued existence, Mr. Jacobs went in the opposite direction.
His show notes, those often silly descriptive passages that purport to explain the genesis of a collection, were written by ChatGPT.
They talked about the collection’s “innovative approach to blending men’s wear-inspired tailoring with feminine aesthetics.” (Uh, sort of, but more like a host of abbreviated swathed and scrunched prom dresses and striped power-shoulder pantsuits over constructivist lingerie.) The “flat shoes” (they were little pointed slippers) and “black tights” (sheer, with white socks) that “emphasized practicality without compromising on sophistication.” Also, the “dominant black and white palette” (true, though there was some emerald and lamé, too) and the way it all celebrated “individuality and timeless style.”
Or, really, 1980s club kids out for a sweaty night on the town in the last days of prelapsarian communication. ChatGPT, it turns out, is not yet much of a fashion critic.
But it was hard not to wonder what the A.I. would have suggested had it been asked what kind of show would be most successful in our current attention-deficit environment. Would it have advised as short a presentation as could be imagined? Or would it have scanned the available data, seen the prevailing trends and told Mr. Jacobs to hire an orchestra, invite Kim Kardashian and have his models walk as slowly as they possibly could?
There’s something awfully human about breaking all the rules and doing it in a way that leaves your audience members laughing at their own conditioning. As they exited, still smiling, they walked past a handful of anti-fur protesters marching and shouting energetically in front of the library — even though there was no fur in the collection. Yelling into the void is human, too.