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Fashion Review: Marc Jacobs Gets the Meaning of It All

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That fashion editors tend to go bonkers for Marc Jacobsshould be obvious by now. You could peel them off the floor of the armory on Lexington Avenue, where he stages his shows, so many have fallen at his genius feet.

See slide shows of the spring 2013 collections.

Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

MARC JACOBS A keyhole jersey dress.

Valerio Mezzanotti for The New York Times

MARC JACOBS A trim jacket over a low-waist pleated skirt.

Rahav Segev for The New York Times

CHADO RALPH RUCCI A day dress spliced with neon pink, black and white.

NowFashion

DONNA KARAN A paper linen-cotton sleeveless shell and skirt.

Elizabethe Lippman for The New York Times

RODARTE A silk top with a woven jacquard miniskirt.

Richard Termine for The New York Times

PHILLIP LIM Nubuck leather overalls over a T-shirt.

There is a reason for all this madness: nobody but nobody does it better than Mr. Jacobs. Even when he is bad, he is often better than most. He simply puts his chips out there in a way that others, lacking in talent or zeal, do not. And while he may not be comparable in avant-garde stamina to Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons, or in mood to the late, great Alexander McQueen, he has enormous feeling for what is contemporary.

Of course, there are designers who make contemporary-looking clothes, like Olivier Theyskens at Theory, or Wes Gordon, a young New Yorker who has grown in ability and on Monday presented sleek separates, like pants and vivid scarf-print tops and a patent-leather coat in petrol blue. Donna Karan is certainly contemporary. Her show contained many beautiful things, especially skirts in airy oyster-gray linen worn with pared-down cutaways or vests, and a slim suit in pale blue stretch linen that defined modern comfort.

But the difference with Mr. Jacobs is that he has no aspirations to make nice or luxurious clothes, though they might be that. Rather, he is interested in breathing meaning into fashion — about sex, art, celebrity, the past or just something personal to him — and doing so in a way that produces a nerve-tingling connection with his audience.

From the very first, his show on Monday pointed to a cleaner look than in recent seasons. It opened with a girl in a T-shirt and black briefs. She was followed by a spree of suits with below-the-knees skirts pulled low on the hips, so the midriff and hipbone were often well exposed.

Many of these outfits came in wide stripes, black, maroon and taupe, with matching purses and dippy little shoes with low heels. Conventional office attire. The models’ hair was ratted at the crown and pulled into a low ponytail, while their eyebrows were penciled thick.

The show hit on three fronts at once. It had great synergy with the 1960s — all those optic stripes and Edie heads — without looking like a ’60s farce. It was very funny; with the skirts dropped low, the silhouette seemed oddly pulled, as if in a fun-house mirror. And it was sexy. The ’60s were obviously the decade when sex became more open, thanks to the pill and other freedoms, but that wouldn’t account for sexiness on a 2012 runway.

You think that nothing can be truly sexy nowadays because everything has been exposed. And yet, for the first time in a while, a designer has successfully pushed the sex button in a compelling way. Remember McQueen’s bumster trousers from the mid-’90s? That was a frankly raw style that eventually set in motion the near-universal trend of low-riding jeans.

Mr. Jacobs has done something perverse with the straight office suit, a symbol of conservatism and get-ahead careerism. That you can easily wear these suits, or break them up, is a bonus.

But, as the painter John Currin said backstage, after he and his wife, the artist Rachel Feinstein, greeted Mr. Jacobs, “You don’t expect sexiness to come in such an outfit.” No, you don’t.

It was great to see Ralph Rucci loosen his aesthetic, strip away the embellishment (apart from cheeky feathers) and discover a sexier attitude. He freely used hot shades of pink and yellow, with cool white, and kept the shapes crisp. Simple day dresses have always been a hidden strength of Mr. Rucci’s. He should do more.

Vera Wang brought her clothes back to more familiar ground on Tuesday, with spare sheaths glazed in Indian embroidery and her favorite slim shorts worn with floaty tops or long fitted vests.

Phillip Lim created a mash-up of dark botanical prints and grunge plaid, with those resonating urban girl pieces like raspberry suede overalls and a faded floral jumpsuit.

The Rodarte collection was surprisingly klutzy. Kate and Laura Mulleavy have worked with hard-edge materials in the past, but that wasn’t the problem. Despite a solid hand with leather pieces, like studded lace-up pants, many of their looks verged on Proenza Schouler’s style.

A version of this review appeared in print on September 12, 2012, on page B18 of the New York edition with the headline: Marc Jacobs Gets the Meaning of It All.

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Associate Editor for TheBOX Online Entertainment Magazine

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