La rentrée, the mighty return which occurs on the first week of September, means a lot of things, and one of these things is the symbolical parting of the French from the sun. This parting brings about a particular kind of agony which seems to be both authentic and a social - no, civil - duty. Here, the obsession with le soleil is a constant stream which knows no limits: it can be used as a point, in some cases exclamation point, to end many skeptical sentences and hazy reflections. The sun is played out as a bright answer to all questions.
There is no other designer who is as literal about this sun fixation as Jacquemus. This summer, the young French man had not only gotten the ultimate seals of success - hanging out with a Kardashian and a lengthy profile in New York Magazine - but also succeeded in getting said magazine to title the profile "Life in The Sunshine". Oh man, did they fall right into it.
I don't blame anyone. You see an Instagram bio, surveilled by close to 1.5 million followers, which reads JE M'APPELLE SIMON PORTE JACQUEMUS, J'AIME LE BLEU ET LE BLANC, LES RAYURES, LE SOLEIL, LES FRUITS, LA VIE, LA POÉSIE, MARSEILLE ET LES ANNÉES 80" - and you can't think of anything but 'guy loves sun'. It's understandable. Someone worked pretty hard, plus used a lot of capitals, in order to create this impression.
Why question it?
Back in 2013, when I was first confronted with the Jacquemus universe, I remember being, in a way, shocked. One word comes to mind: rude. The clothes were rude. It was a pop parade, but twisted, and had none of the straightforwardness which pop requires. The pink had a sickening edge. The shoulders seemed to threaten - get out, and stay out. I became intimidated and curious at once. One thing’s for sure: that show was eager to receive the title "Life in The Sunshine", but if you chose to go along with the eagerness and look away from the darkness, you have missed it all.
Since then, every year seems to augment the gravitational energy revolving Jacquemus' star, and this stretching out - the process of becoming known, really known - means relying upon the same mega-sunny manifest. Taking a step beyond that Instagram bio, here are the manifest’s main principles: so we've mentioned the sun, and there's also innocence, childhood, happiness. Along all these tropes, one less abstract notion is echoed again and again: Jacquemus is about the south of France and it is definitely not about Paris. "in Paris, people are not smiley and in the south of France, people are smiley." Yes, it's a real quote. On rare occasions, the subject was treated in a more of a complexed light: "I was obsessed with Paris", he was once willing to divulge. But usually speaking, the dichotomy of Lousy Grey Paris vs. Fun Sunny Provence is being tightly held up.
When it comes to dichotomies, there's only one thing you can do: tell Slavoj Žižek's favourite film joke.
In Ernst Lubitch's Ninotchka, a man comes into a restaurant. He sits down at the table and says, 'Waiter, bring me a cup of coffee without cream.' Five minutes later, the waiter comes back and says, 'I'm sorry, sir, we have no cream. Can I offer you coffee without milk?’
In this sense, Jacquemus perfectly embodies the French Girl.
Coffee without cream, emphasises Žižek, is not the same as coffee without milk. And if there’s one creature in this world who can say one thing while actually saying a whole other thing - not its opposite, nor a lie - it is the French Girl.
It is not a disguise. It's not fraud. It's not the mysterious femme fatale playing the cards close to her chest. This is a different ballgame.
Does this mean that Jacquemus secretly prefers foggy urban landscape while deceiving us with another tale? Does this mean that the French are privately exhilarated for September? Does this mean that the French Girl is a player?
No. It certainly does not. But while I have no doubt that Jacquemus wholeheartedly adores the sun, or "life in the sunshine" as it may, I intensely reject the claim for naïveté. You just have to take one look at the clothes, which are actually more furious shapes than they are clothes.
This notion becomes even more clear when you watch the clothes paired with the accessories, which became an extremely lucrative business for this novice fashion house. The bags and shoes have reached such a level of success and influence in the global market that they truly merit the status of a pop phenomenon. It is perfectly aligned with the way that they were conceived and executed: from the teeny-tiny handbags to the formalistic heels, they are as catchy and joyful as your top 5 Billboard hits. A perfect pop harmony, not a cloud in sight.
The funny thing is, traditionally, accessories are meant to "complete a look". And yet here they act in an entirely different manner: by creating the ultimate toys, by creating objects which are so profoundly playful, the accessories serve to reveal the utmost seriousness and complexity that is embedded in the clothes. No, these objects cannot count as means of complement. Like a chatty upbeat kid, they are babbling away the sinister secrets of the parents.
As all great toys are, the accessories are colourful jokes, and are meant to be regarded as such. Can you possibly mistake a microscopic bag which barely holds 3 coins and retails for 258$ for anything other than a joke? The clothes, though, are not emblematic in the same way. This is not a case of opposites completing one another: remember, one is without cream, the other without milk.
No, far from a liberated sun-kissed wardrobe, the clothes Jacquemus creates are carrying the signs of struggle. Dresses are struggling to stay put. Knits are struggling to cover the skin. Coats are struggling to keep the shoulders warm. They seem to not want to be there in the first place. What we see is a cruel joke, because Jacquemus knows: fashion is a cruel joke.
While this cruel joke - rude, abundant, brutal - have been spiralling since the nascent days of the brand, somewhere around 2009-10, another planet was added to its galaxy last summer. The Jacquemus Man was born, created from the rib of the Jacquemus Woman.
The most boring, predictable question in fashion is "who is the X woman"? For example, who is the Yves Saint Laurent woman? Who is the Marc Jacobs woman? And so on to the end of times. How silly the answers to this question usually get, oh let us count the ways: "She is confident", "global", "sophisticated", yawn. Yet, an infinitely more interesting question to ask is: Who is the Jacquemus man?
The man is pure text. Everything is laid out. There are no jokes. No complexities. No internal battles. It lacks all the subtext which the woman carries.
This does not mean that these are not great clothes the only 'designer piece’ I dared to buy this year was this jacket when it was on 50% off sale). In a way, this is exactly the way clothes are supposed to be. Devoid of fashion. Stupid garments. Why the hell tell cruel jokes in the first place?
Critical questions call, once again, for Žižek's jokes.
Two strangers sit in the same train compartment. After a long silence, one suddenly addresses the other: 'Have you ever fucked a dog?' Surprised, the other replies: 'No -- have you?' 'Of course not, that's disgusting. I just asked it to start a conversation'.
The French Girl's superpower, to use language for her own specific needs, does not yield dishonesty or duplicity. Whether she is protesting or aimlessly hanging around with her friends, the French Girl knows: language is a cruel joke.
Don't listen to the French Girl. But hear her carefully. Listen to the spaces between her words, whether she speaks about the sun, cinema or God.
Don't listen to the French Girl. Hear her. Observe her do. Watch her love. Be amazed.