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Marc Jacobs: Grunge, It Girls And Defining American Fashion

Marc Jacobs: Grunge, It Girls And Defining American Fashion




Style. The city. Subcultures. Iconic bags, celebrity culture and razor-sharp instincts. Three decades of defining American style. There’s nobody like Marc Jacobs. To celebrate the launch of Marc Jacobs at FLANNELS, we’re going on a deep dive into the designer’s most iconic moments, from the genesis of grunge to the new age It girl and beyond.

“I was completely appalled!” (In Vogue: The 1990s Podcast) says Hamish Bowels, Vogue’s Global Editor At Large of Marc Jacobs' SS93 collection for Perry Ellis. The collection, designed by a then 25-year-old Jacobs, is regarded by many as the origin of grunge style. The show was met with widespread controversy and damning reviews from the fashion world. “Suzy (Menkes) went to the extent, I think she had these badges made that said, ‘grunge is ghastly,’” laughs Jacobs when reminiscing with Bowles about the collection.

As for the designs that drove the controversy? Close your eyes, picture the thrashing chords of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' and you’re there. The looks were made up of silk slips, chunky boots, exposed bras, torn fishnets and distressed flannel shirts. The collection featured the likes of Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell in barely-there slips and cartoon tees. There was, “a dirty, grubby, glamour to the whole thing,” Marc Jacobs told Vogue. Backstage, while the show was in full swing, Sonic Youth were shooting a music video starring a young Chloë Sevigny.

And the poster children of grunge? Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain. Though the pair weren’t fans of Jacobs' designs. Speaking to WWD, Love – now horrified at the memory - revealed that when Marc Jacobs sent her and Cobain his Perry Ellis Collection, they burned it, stating: “We were punkers – we didn’t like that kind of thing”. For better or for worse, grunge had a message: Come As You Are.

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But grunge would go on to become one of the most iconic styles of all time. Today, it’s consistently referenced in the fashion world, be it through designers (Bottega Veneta’s SS23 collection had a decidedly grunge feel, with Kate Moss walking the runway in a blue flannel shirt) or street stylers. You only need to glance at TikTok to see how the grunge aesthetic lives on, as ‘90s nostalgia continues to capture the attention of Gen-Z, #grunge currently has 7.1 billion views on TikTok. And Jacobs himself is keeping the style alive.

After his SS93 collection for Perry Ellis, Jacobs exited the label. But his next moves would go on to cement his status as a fashion legend. From developing his namesake label to his tenure at Louis Vuitton, through the late ‘90s and well into the Noughties, Jacobs established himself as one of the most influential designers in the world.

The key to Marc Jacobs' success? That kind of genius is hard to measure. But his ability to capture the zeitgeist through fashion is one thing that has helped turn him into a designer that has defined three decades of fashion. Case in point? His honourable contribution to the It bag phenomenon. A favourite from the archives? The Stam Bag. Named after Noughties icon Jessica Stam, the bag, which was an oversized, quilted number, appears in literally every paparazzi pic from 2006.

But one thing that sets the designer apart is his razor-sharp instinct. Back in 2004, Jacobs appointed a then lesser-known Pharrell Williams to design sunglasses for Louis Vuitton, alongside A Bathing Ape founder Nigo. At the time, it was a decision the industry was far from onboard with, after the collaboration was revealed, Vogue ran an article titled, ‘Who Is Pharrell Williams To Be Designing For Louis Vuitton?’. Some 16 years later and Pharrell has just been named as Louis Vuitton’s Creative Director. Marc Jacobs' instinct never misses.

Marc Jacobs is a designer like no other. Resolutely anti-establishment, his energy, vision and unique approach make him a one-of-a-kind creative. Throughout his career, Jacobs has always been linked to subcultures, and it’s a relationship that remains. Back in the ‘90s, it was grunge. But in the late Noughties and early ‘10s, it was indie sleaze.

Through his punky, avant-garde designs and no-holds-barred approach, he was a favourite designer of the era. Case in point: his friendship with indie sleaze poster girl Sky Ferreira. Ferreira, who is first and foremost a musician, financed the recording of her debut album, Night Time, My Time, by modelling for Marc Jacobs. The DIY approach taken by Ferreira epitomises that era in music, as did the album, which was pure dirty indie pop. And when the pair weren’t working together? They were sitting front row at Hedi Slimane-era Saint Laurent shows.

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High drama, bold looks and fashion that knows its history – that’s the magic of Marc Jacobs. Over the years, his New York Fashion Week shows have come to be known as the shows of the season. And while the designer is currently showing off-schedule, his collections are still creating a frenzy. The looks can range from outrageous to surprisingly subtle. His AW19 collection - which was staged against an all-black backdrop and featured romantic gowns that were so huge they almost swallowed the models - was borderline haunting. For AW20, the designer went all-American with a nostalgic show that went big on Jackie O-style glamour.

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And he never misses a moment to fight for what’s right. His AW22 collection, which was staged amidst the overturning of Roe v. Wade, was simply titled ‘Choice’. The show itself was sheer spectacle. There were voluminous silhouettes, punky beauty looks, lots of leather, eerily tied oversized garments and swaddled silk gowns. The collection had a dystopian feel to it, thanks to a series of headscarves that nod to The Handmaid’s Tale.

His most recent show was an ode to the mother of punk, Vivienne Westwood. There was form-fitting knitwear, sculpted into suggestive shapes in a nod to Westwood’s 1981 pirate collection. Models donned punk pixie crops, and deconstructed skirts that felt very punk also had a major moment on the runway. As did oversized knitwear in shades of brown and khaki and the – now cult – Kiki Boots on high platforms. The show notes featured a quote from Westwood: “Fashion is life-enhancing, and I think it’s a lovely, generous thing to do for other people”.

Throughout his career, Jacobs has always been close to the cultural touchstones, celebrities and tastemakers, and this has put him front and centre of some of fashion’s most iconic moments. Take his friendship with Kate Moss, for example. The designer is behind some of her most iconic fashion moments. Read: those ‘90s slip dresses, her silver Met Gala gowns in 2009 and then again in 2019. Most recently? Moss revived her iconic candy-floss hair for Marc Jacobs Resort 2022 campaign.

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But the Marc Jacobs muse in 2023 is none other than Kendall Jenner. Recently named the face of the brand, Jenner is now the poster girl for all things Jacobs. But the supermodel has a long history with the brand. In fact, it was Marc Jacobs who gave Kendall Jenner her runway debut (see what we mean about killer instinct?). Back in the autumn of 2014, a then 19-year-old Jenner walked the Jacobs runway with bleached brows, in cropped pants and a beige, nipple-bearing sweater. Today, Jenner, along with Irina Shayk, is wearing next to nothing in Jacob’s most recent campaign. Touting ‘The Tote Bag’, wearing a chunky silver necklace and teetering on high platform heels, for SS23, it’s all about the iconic pieces. And Marc Jacobs' signature styles epitomise what it means to be a modern icon.

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Marc Jacobs is a designer that we will be forever indebted to. He changed the narrative; re-imagining what could appear on the runway, what style looked like and what was deemed acceptable in the fashion world. Through his relationship with style, the city and subcultures, Jacobs pioneered a new world of fashion, one that was more inclusive and that – perhaps more than anything - created more space for art.




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