A Ghost Appears at the Marc Jacobs Show

“Fashion is life-enhancing. And I think it’s a lovely, generous thing to do for other people.”

So said Vivienne Westwood, the gleefully subversive British designer who died in December at age 81. And so quoted Marc Jacobs, the erstwhile favorite fashion son of New York, as the epigraph for his latest show, which was a memorial of sorts not just to the influence of Ms. Westwood but also to the power and promise of great clothes. Heck, maybe to his part in the whole fashion system itself.

Titled “Heroes,” it was held in the hushed, empty space of the Park Avenue Armory, left in darkness save for a row of chairs against one wall and a spotlit music stand. A single violinist was playing the jarring, dissonant notes of Philip Glass’s “Knee Play 2” from his opera “Einstein on the Beach.” Then from out of the darkness came the light.

Or rather, a beat-up-looking cargo jacket and skirt glittering with Swarovski crystals, swathed and crimped into a bustle at the back: Ms. Westwood’s signature twisted historicism, source code for so many designers, spliced into the basics of today.

And that was just the beginning of the Vivienne-isms. Mr. Jacobs wasn’t just quoting Ms. Westwood’s words, it turned out. He was quoting her work. And her look.

Marc Jacobs, fall 2023 Credit…Nina Westervelt for The New York Times

Many of the models had the sort of bleached-out or carrot-top crop favored by Ms. Westwood. They stomped forth on towering platform boots (Ms. Westwood loved a platform), arms crossed in leather opera gloves, shoulders swathed in puffer stoles, clothes squinched and whorled into memories of courtly dress reclaimed for the age of streetwear in denim, canvas, fake fur, patchwork and crushed velvet. You could spot the trace of a trapeze jacket here, the wisp of a corset there.

Ribbed knits were corkscrewed into bullet breasts; sleeves were tied strategically around different body parts to create drape and volume; jackets were worn upside down and inside out and back-to-front (some of them as skirts), ingeniously blowing raspberries at the rules of what has to be worn how. The colors were muddy, with the occasional pop of crimson and gold. The silhouette was elongated, fluted, a little army-surplus Maleficent. Also a little Rick Owens, but then he likewise owes a debt to Ms. Westwood.

Marc Jacobs, fall 2023Credit…Photographs by Nina Westervelt for The New York Times

Marc Jacobs, fall 2023Credit…Nina Westervelt for The New York Times

Mr. Jacobs pretty much dropped out of the formal fashion world a while ago; he stopped being part of the official New York Fashion Week schedule after Covid hit, and his runway collection is sold only at Bergdorf Goodman. (“The Marc Jacobs,” his lower priced line, is what most people see.)

That makes these catwalk outings an indulgence — a little like an elder deigning to bestow his once-prized largess on the crowd — but a meaningful one. He shows when he has something to say. And still draws a crowd: Lourdes Leon arrived late and was shut out of the show.

There will be an official memorial to Ms. Westwood in a few weeks at the start of the London ready-to-wear shows. But for now, there is this: one designer paying homage to another.

A reminder that creativity has its own royal lineage, and history is the playground we all share. Out of it comes ideas and, sometimes, fabulousness. Generosity can be an awfully good look.

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