Full marks to Twitter user “PettyRubble,” who, after Marc Jacobs’s NYFW show Thursday at the Hammerstein Ballroom on 34th Street, posted this message: “Marc Jacobs did a runway show with white models wearing fake dreadlocks. IT’S TIME TO ARGUE ONLINE!”
As sure as an outbreak of flared culottes following seasons of skinny jeans, that is precisely what happened after Jacobs’s customary end-of-week show, in which a series of models paraded up and down the runway sporting the colorful dreadlocks spun out of wool by mother-and-daughter team Dreadlocks by Jena, and then styled by Guido Palau.
If New York Fashion Week had begun with controversy—as models and fashion-followers had been melted alive by Kanye West’s show on Roosevelt Island—so it ended with yet more, as one of the world’s most celebrated designers was accused of insensitive cultural appropriation.
Staging a stunning show set beneath a forest of hanging lightbulbs, Jacobs was inspired by the colorful dreadlocks of film director Lana Wachowski. Jena Counts and her daughter then produced 12,500 individual dreadlocks in hundreds of colors that were tied up in towering, tangled constructions by Palau.
In a list of inspirations recited backstage to The Cut, Palau cited “the ’80s, raver culture, Boy George, and Harajuku as references, explaining that with the colors many of the girls looked quite ‘cyber.’”
Palau told The Cut he hadn’t considered the politics of dreadlocks. “I take inspiration from every culture. Style comes from clashing things. It’s always been there—if you’re creative, if you make food, music, and fashion, whatever, you’re inspired by everything. It’s not homogeneous. Different cultures mix all the time. You see it on the street. People don’t dress head-to-toe in just one way.”
Rasta culture was not an inspiration, he added.
In response, there was anger on social media.
The show—with celebrities including Demi Lovato and Courtney Love in the audience—was a stunning cap to Fashion Week: Models including Kendall Jenner, Bella and Gigi Hadid, Karlie Kloss, Jourdan Dunn, Adriana Lima, and Irina Shayk paraded Jacobs’s collection, which was a riot of takes on ’70s and ’80s club culture, with some Biba, Barbarella, Studio 54, and Stepford Wives sewn in for good, mischievous measure.
On fabulous if perilous-looking stack heeled boots and other precipitous shoes with long socks, the models wore a clashing panoply of short shorts, glittery trousers and jackets, and fur stoles. Feathers protruded from shoulders.
A long metallic coat came with shorts, and a demure gray knit beneath. There were gorgeous, ruffled baby-doll nighties, and shirt-dresses with ruffles and intricate detailing, while another model sported a long, multi-colored patchwork-designed coat.
A long, silver coat topped a spangly mini-dress, a long lilac coat went over silver trousers, while other oversized coats with chaotic prints suggested a mash-up of Velvet Goldmine and early ’90s rave. Leopard print and paisley were paired with vivid red short skirts and skinny trousers, while fitted denim jackets were paired with short velvet skirts, and camouflage with clashing-patterned sweaters and striped soccer-style jerseys. Jacobs appeared at the end to give a humble bow, and then disappeared into the dry ice pumping from backstage.
In the foyer of the Hammerstein Ballroom, before the social media criticisms over the dreadlocks had begun to take root, people milled to celebrity-watch, schmooze, and say goodbye to each other, and Fashion Week.
“There’s something tonight, but I can’t think what it is,” said one young woman to a pal. There was some debate among a bigger group about taking a “squad photo.”
One of a duo turned to her friend, surveying the air-kissing and shrieking around them, and firmly said: “Are you ready? Let’s go.” And out they went, into the sunlight.