Beginning in the late 1950s, a group of French directors - which included François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Éric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol and Jacques Rivette - shot to fame for rejecting traditional literary-based filmmaking. They were intent on exploring the youth-centric social and political issues of the day and their technique mirrored their experimental content as they utilized portable equipment, little to no set up time and long takes and fragmented narrative structure - then considered quite a radical way to edit a film. The result was a body of work that broke with tradition, creating a new filmic genre that raised questions and then failed to answer them, a style of narrative ambiguity that became the signature of La Nouvelle Vague or The New Wave.
(Truffaut's La Nuit americaine via source)
In 1973, Truffaut directed Jacqueline Bisset and Jean-Pierre Léaud in La Nuit américaine (American Night), referring to a technical process using artificial tungsten light or underexposed infrared film stock to make scenes appear as if they are taking place at night. In a pivotal scene, he issues instructions to his actors, even telling a dog to pee on a lamppost.
Fast forward three years to what is now regarded as one of the most important avant-garde films of the 20th century, a twelve-minute black-and-white short of an ordinary street directed by John Smith called The Girl Chewing Gum. (image)
At first, the voice-ever seems to direct random events until it suddenly becomes evident that it's not the scene responding to the voice, but the voice to the scene. "As the instructions become more absurd and fantasized, we realise that the supposed director (not the shot) is fictional; he only describes – not prescribes – the events that take place before him," noted A.L. Rees in A Directory of British Film & Video Artists (1995). "Through staggering image and sound track, the voice seems to gain powerful authority over the scene, predicting events that the images thus confirm," continues Collier White in a 2007 review of an exhibition at Artists Space in New York. By "imposing, judging and creating an imaginary scene from a visual trace," Michael Maziere observed in Undercut magazine (1984) that the work raised disturbing questions about broader issues of control and direction, or Big Brother, not only watching people on the street but ordering them about.
Smith's movie meditation on the nature of free will inspired Marc Jacobs for Spring 2015, in particularly the overwhelmingly non-standout'ishness of the ordinary folk filmed on a gray and nondescript day in London's Hackney, a once downtrodden and crime-ridden borough. "I liked the idea of something very anonymous, very invisible," explains the designer about his collection of fancy surplus gear. "I started thinking about anonymity and the idea of how uniforms, in youth culture, used to be a symbol of rebellion or protest and how now, with fashion, it doesn't mean anything, it's what people wear. I started thinking about color and decided that I liked a very neutral palette, one that was kind of inspired by uniforms, workwear and surplus clothes - because they're kind of invisible colors."
The runway result was a general's uniform turned silk-twill shirtdress, a loden trouser with G.I. Jane sensibilities, a pantsuit that possibly once reported to Chairman Mao. The inky-black shaggy coiffures, upcycled Dr. Scholl's sandals and bulky military silhouettes further added to this dystopian statement of the Katniss kind.
The setting was house painted Pepto Bismol pink house, a kind of Barbie McMansion - created by his go-to set designer, Stefan Beckman - that blocked people's view of the audience on the other side of the catwalk. In lieu of the standard booming soundtrack, Beats by Dre headsets provided a narrative of the show, delivered by a computer/artificial intelligence. "You hear the narrative of what is going on in the house but you'll never really know what is going on in the house and if what you're seeing is what the audience on the other side saw," adds Jacobs, who has a fondness for creating "conceptual" runway shows. "It's just this kind of thing of perception, really. That's what it all is."
Who knows...but this I do know: many of us grrrls are wrestling with just these types of questions and those of us who roll with the Apocalytical Fashion Tribe will be lining up come fall to buy looks from this collection - or headed to the Army/Navy surplus store and Goodwill to get the look for less.
- Lesley Scott