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This is How Fashion Talks About War

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Image via Getty.
Image via Getty.

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The news always seems intense, but recently, it's been almost unbearable. The horrors inflicted by ISIS, the events in Ukraine, the shooting and subsequent unrest in Ferguson that's highlighted the militarization of our own police force. Thanks to social media and the 24/7 news cycle, images and video of these and other conflicts are everywhere, a level of global connectedness that did not exist in the past.

Here and there this fashion week, there have been military references. Olive green has been a popular choice of color for spring 2015; designers such as Nicholas K have shown entire collections that feel military-inspired. War and the military wasn't just hinted at last night at Marc Jacobs' spring 2015 fashion week runway, it was as clear and obvious as the oversize pink house at the center of the set.

Photos via Imaxtree

Jacobs shows are always buoyed by layers of meaning beneath a commercial exterior, and this was no different. The show opened quietly, a large pink house surrounded by pink grass taking up the center of the room. No windows were open and no one was entering or exiting. This Pepto-colored structure served as the backdrop to a collection that riffed almost entirely on military uniforms—dresses, capes, sweaters, and skirts in shades of olive, tan, and navy. Some were paired with flat brown leather boots; others with sandals that resembled dressy Dr. Scholl's or little velvet Mary Janes. Many were covered with glossy cabochons, which was Jacobs' stylish way of representing medals or badges.

As T ruminated, the set—in its overwhelmingly saturated pink-ness—resembled the work of photographer Richard Mosse. Mosse is known for shooting the horrors of war and in his work, has used film developed by the U.S. military in the early '40s to detect camouflage from afar. (How it does that is explained here and here, and has to do with how the chlorophyll in plants absorbs light.) Mosse used the film to document the long-term war in the Congo for a project he called "The Enclave."

As Jacobs told Women's Wear Daily, the collection sprung from the idea of uniforms and the invisible, a thread that also runs through The Enclave. "They're kind of invisible colors," he said. "Then, I started thinking about uniforms and decoration and anonymity and the idea of uniforms and youth culture. Uniforms used to be a symbol of rebellion and protest. And now, it doesn't mean anything. It's just what you wear." Those invisible colors stood out, though, against the saccharine hue of their surroundings, just as an enemy soldier in camo would stand out against natural greenery rendered pink thanks to a special sort of film.

While the show played out, the audience sat and listened to a narrator through hundreds of pairs of Beats by Dre headphones. As New York Magazine explains, the dialog seemed to describe a simpler time, "a domestic scene—the girls at home, jumping on the bed, a loyal dog at their side, an Olivetti typewriter clacking away." Though Jacobs refused to assign specific meaning to the pink house, it's pretty clear that it represents a type of suburban safety assigned to an age past. During the final walk (for non-fashion-types, when the models parade out at the very end), the narrator intoned this over the headphones: "There's been too much going on. Can we move the house to a place where nothing ever happens, and things are slower? I'll be happy there."

As timing would have it, Jacobs show fell on 9/11—last year, it was the day after. Though it would have been crass to tie the events of that day to a fashion show, Jacobs had to have felt the weight of the anniversary. Are we safer now than we were 13 years ago? War and violence is a daily reality, one that we've incorporated into our lives just like a new wardrobe. Heavy stuff, really, and not the type that sells clothes or handbags.

· Finally: Watch Marc Jacobs, Live! [Racked]