Marc Jacobs mastered the discipline of dressage in a polka dot parade.
Strict, disciplined, uptight, buttoned-up, sombre; Marc Jacobs unleashed a Thesaurus of words to describe the polished, sharp severity of his new autumn/winter 2011 collection shown at New York Fashion Week.
The show was staged on a tongue-in-cheek version of a "padded cell", with the models parading amidst quilted PVC columns - and there was every reason to suspect the frenetic American designer had gone quite dotty.
Polka dots were the whimsical note to this exercise in crisp, couture-like tailoring, appearing on every conceivable fabric from latex and Lamé, to sequinned cashmere, cellophane, polyester, rubber and double-face crepe - not to mention the "cabuchon" spots on the pillbox hats, fastened with an organza chin-strap, the coin-spot faux-fur Peter Pan collar on a brown wool suit, and the Lurex socks, just visible above patent "diving boots" with a vast wedge heel.
The collection was a complete turnaround from Jacobs' current girls-in-party-mode-on-the-town spring/summer collection, with its "falling-off dresses," as he termed them.
"There's not a hint of flesh," he said backstage. "Everything is covered up from the neck, down to the gloved hands and the legs in hose and socks. I didn't want the girls to look anything like casual or sloppy."
The key silhouette was a curved and rigorously-waisted peplum jacket, with rounded, raglan sleeves, often worn with a "schoolmarm" white shirt, buttoned tight, over a skintight, sequinned pencil skirt, covering the knees, or a mid-ankle, slim trouser, in shimmering Lamé. Double-breasted jackets, grazing the waist, were a nod to the scissored precision of military tailoring.
Dresses had a slight Victoriana-meets-Louisa May Alcott feel - high-necked, with a lace or cellophane jabot, a hint of a leg-o-mutton sleeve, and a fit-and-flare flow down the body, even, just occasionally, the suggestion of a bustle, perked-out with ruffles of tulle. But when wrought in extravagant, almost see-through lace or appliquéd florals, the dresses resembled more the preferred garb of a risqué governess.
Jacobs referred to the palette - burgundy, bottle-green, navy, brown, black - as being "quite dowdy". But the extravagant exuberance of the materials and the exquisite craftsmanship of the cut completely belied any suggestion of this. And the use of Marilyn Manson's thunderous "Beautiful People" anthem on the soundtrack elevated what could have been a nostalgic journey into a quick-march into the future.