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Inside Marc Jacobs’s Grace-Jones-Killer-Stilletto-Laura Mars-Themed Party

Inside Marc Jacobs’s Grace-Jones-Killer-Stilletto-Laura Mars-Themed Party

My weather app done let me down. It had forecast light rain and drizzle moisturizing the Manhattan night, but when I emerged from the 28th Street subway stop an excellent impersonation of a monsoon was in progress—one of nature’s impromptu car washes, and me without an umbrella. I shall never put my trust in technology again. The situation called for McGyver ingenuity, since the last thing I desired was to arrive at the Marc Jacobs glamoranza looking as if I had been fished out of the Hudson like some waterlogged chump in an old Law and Order, and I couldn’t risk taking shelter under a scaffold until the rain let up because I was already running late and the rain seemed to be getting down with its own bad self for a lengthy stay. I nabbed the last $5 umbrella at a newsstand and it managed to open without the spokes ripping loose from the fabric and impaling some nearby pedestrian.

The site of the party was Tunnel, a landmark legend located on 12th Avenue, which in a different era in New York history was not a loading-zone strip one visited unless one was on a journey to the end of the night to meet the dawn feeling well and truly spent, if you get my euphemism. One went there with a sense of purpose and, back in the day, a pocketful of poppers. I had thought that I had visited Tunnel back in my pre-clerical days, strictly on a fact-finding mission, but when I had read that it included rooms decorated as S&M dungeons, I thought, no, I would have remembered that. Some people are so jaded that they’ve lost track of the S&M dungeons they’ve toured since Gerard Malanga first cracked the whip for the Velvet Underground, but not I. “The wildest and most revealing discos are those that cater to the rough-trade crowd down on the Hudson River docks, where you find dives with brutally suggestive names that conjure visions of chains and manacles,” Albert Goldman wrote in Disco, and although Tunnel was no dive—a converted railroad freight terminal, it had an industrial magnitude—it too was where Dionysus met Dante’s Inferno. It was not only the site of its own revels but inspired fictional exploits, serving as one of the preferred hangouts of serial killer Patrick Bateman in Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho.

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Bateman, in his Wall Street pinstripe power suit, might not have been able to pass the dress code for the Jacobs party, which celebrated the publication of Gloss: The Work of Chris von Wagenheim, a Zeitgeist-defining high fashion/raw frisson photographer, stipulated full jungle red fierceness Dynasty turban hauteur Patty Hearst battle fatigues killer stilettos Jerry Hall swoopy hair “Grace Jones butch realness” mirrored aviators and, last but not least, on the billing, “Eyes of Laura Mars chic.”
In honor of Eyes of Laura Mars (1978; directed by Irvin Kershner, who did my favorite Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back) and perhaps in spooky memory of von Wagenheim (who died in a car accident at the age of 39), Tunnel’s tubular space was anchored by a series of autocrash tableaux in which models with legs that spanned zip codes stretched and splayed and poutily posed on dented hoods and across faux-shattered windshields. Meanwhile, banks of television monitors that looked as if they had been hauled out of the archaeological remains of Danceteria and public access studios blazed with orangey red fire, an unholy marriage of Andy Warhol’s car crash silkscreens and J. G. Ballard over which Faye Dunaway’s Laura Mars presided as high priestess.
If you’ve ever seen Laura Mars (you have, haven't you? you haven’t? what’s wrong with you? stop Netflix-bingeing and get with it), the sequence that branded itself on photographers, designers, and connoisseurs of finely curated excess for decades to come, and transcended the hokey murder-mystery melodrama, was the fashion fashion shoot at Columbus Circle where Dunaway, playing a fashion photographer who specializes in Helmut Newton/Rebecca Blake provocation, crouches with one long leg extended and clicks away as models in heels and firemen-red boots, lingerie, and fur coats stage a hair-tugging catfight in front of a flaming multi-car pileup and gushing fountains. It’s a dynamic pastiche that vectors the sex and violence and full metal racket of the 70s into one iconic crackup, and what holds the simulated chaos together and nails it to the asphalt is Dunaway’s unyielding focus. Her Laura Mars is just about the only photographer I’ve seen portrayed on screen who handles and works the camera (in this instance, a Nikon equipped with a motor drive) like an actual pro—I’ve seen actors hold the camera as if it were handed to them five minutes before the director said “Action” and they were afraid of dropping it—and directs the models and crew with knack and authority, as if she’s done this dozens of times before under similar urban combat conditions. She’s doing commercial work with the serious drive of a genuine artist, and this is what I think resonates with the performers, designers, photographers, and meme-makers who have been inspired by the film and raises it above a camp curio, such as Xanadu or Can’t Stop the Music.
Not that those films weren’t represented by the costumed guests at Marc Jacobs’s Tunnel: the roller disco silver star sparkle and Village People uniforms joining the parade of Funkadelic boots, strip club pasties, Wayne County wigs, Riddler suits, Rocky Horror Picture Show regalia, space patrol goggles, Miami Vice pastels, high-slit, low-plunging skintighters, Anna Nicole Smith Guess-jeaners, and a few nondenominational weirdos, without which no democracy is truly complete. I spotted my former Village Voice colleague Michael Musto across the room, Michael Musto-spotting being one of the comforting constants in this ever-dissolving bohemian nightworld. I read later that at one point the photographer Maripol liberated her breasts from her leopard-print top, which I’m sorry I missed, being such a fan of her book of Polaroids.
Each wave of newcomers arriving to the beat of Donna Summer and “Let‘s All Chant” seemed taller than the last, or perhaps I was shrinking from gravity fatigue, but some of these human parade floats were going to have a heroic time folding themselves into the Uber cars afterwards. Disco always aspired to orgy, Albert Goldman wrote, and although this party was more hedonistic and gorgeously bodied than I’ve been to since taking the vows, it’s hard to get an orgy or even a half-way decent bacchanal going with so much pausing for selfies, Instagramming, Vining, and not near enough voguing. If I operated a swing club, I would confiscate all phones and recording devices before everyone got ready to boogie down, and if that makes me a traditionalist, so be it. But on its own get-happy terms, the party was a carousing carousel.
Outside, under the dripping awning as the rainstorm remained in business, models lit up cigarettes as thin as themselves, which was also very Eyes of Laura Mars. I grabbed my $5 umbrella from the scaffolding pipe from which I had hung it and headed home, where I had DVR’d Project Runway for later viewing, as any true disciple would. But before that, I watched Eyes of Laura Mars again, which I originally saw at a screening with Pauline Kael, who would defend the movie against its moralistic, feminist detractors, a minority stance that has happily prevailed.

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