New York Fashion Week came to an end Wednesday in the empty, echoing wine-dark Armory on upper Park Avenue where a few small rows of metal stools faced each other across a truncated mirrored runway like an island, floating unmoored in space. The crying strings of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble filled the air.
Out of the blackness a woman materialized, lit by a single spot and wearing a sweeping leopard-print cape, a ruffled Victorian floral blouse, cropped pinstriped trousers and leather boots, her image inverted and reflected back from below. Together, she and her double wandered forward, and then disappeared into the shadows again.
Oh hello, fashion. Where have you been? Where are you going?
Marc Jacobs didn’t have an answer. This week, no one has. But then, that’s not just a problem of style; it’s a reflection of the current identity crisis in this country. Mr. Jacobs simply posed the question more gorgeously, and succinctly, than pretty much anyone else. That’s the point of this whole exercise, in case anyone was wondering.
He posed it with ever-increasing A-line volumes in tweed and cashmere and taffeta. With long gowns speckled with crystal, sashes draped into a governess bustle at the back. With explosions of elaborately ruched opera coats. With the simplicity of a Shetland sweater and wool skirt. With an off-the-shoulder empire-waist chartreuse ball gown. With references to his own back catalog, and the tropes of couture.
Almost every model wore a beanie cap with feathers sticking up, like refugees from Neverland. It was all beautifully made. Christy Turlington Burns, who last walked a runway when she appeared in Mr. Jacobs’ 1992 grunge collection (the one that made him famous, ended his first career at Perry Ellis and that he recently revisited), closed the show barefaced, in a dress made entirely of black feathers.
This was seven hours after Michael Kors had closed his celebration of Studio 54 and the time when the famous and the wannabe mingled in a cloud of disco possibility, featuring the former model/rock chick Patti Hansen. She was resplendent in a gold metallic trouser suit, the last note in a parade of slinky, sequin-spangled disco dresses; tailored Melton tweeds over daisy florals and nautical stripes; cashmere corps de ballet warm-up wraps; patchwork leather coats and Mongolian lamb chubbies.
Backstage before the show Mr. Kors had denied feeling nostalgic — “except for the time when people went out at night with abandon because they weren’t afraid of being caught on social media.” But afterward a black curtain went up to reveal a somewhat embalmed-looking Barry Manilow crooning “Copacabana” in an orange jacket and black pants. Barry Manilow! Don’t knock a signature tune, even if we’ve all heard it way too many times before.
It’s history, baby — and not as defined by Snapchat (not when the past was so 15 seconds ago). Remember when.
Once upon a time both Mr. Kors and Mr. Jacobs were part of the generation that was going to inherit New York from Ralph, Calvin, Donna and Co. and define its sportswear for the 21st century. Once upon a time they were so buzzy they went to Paris to inject some life into heritage brands (Louis Vuitton and Celine, respectively). Once upon a time they made their names by understanding the continuum of which they were a part; the back story told by Charles James and Balenciaga and Claire McCardell.
But now, as Tom Ford said a week ago after his show that started the season, “day clothes don’t really exist any more. It’s all jeans or workout gear.”
In a city where the most urgent voices are those of outsiders with a different kind of heritage, where does that leave these two men?
Taking up the rear, apparently. Or with the last word, depending on how you want to think about it. When Mr. Jacobs came out to take his bow, he didn’t even crack a smile, just stood there for a second, then turned on his heel and faded back into the darkness. There was a moment of silence. It had value, and values.