Summer 08/09
July 18 | Reviewed by Thomasin Sleigh

Lela Jacobs unveiled her new collection of clothes on a wintery night in Wellington. It was dark and cold, and it felt like it had been raining for about three years. Mary Newton Gallery, where the launch was held, was packed with black-clad fashionistas eager to see the Jacobs’ new range and grab a glass of wine.

I recently wrote for Lumière about the documentary The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins, currently featuring at the New Zealand International Film Festivals. Vanessa Beecroft, the subject of this documentary, is famous for her installations of scantily clad young women standing vacantly in galleries. (Another documentary at the Festival, Jia Zhang-ke’s Useless, centres on a young Chinese designer’s debut at Paris Fashion Week, where her label ‘Wuyong’ is similarly presented by static models on podiums within a large exhibition space.—ED) Jacobs’ show was reminiscent of Beecroft’s confrontational art works. The models were positioned in the centre of the gallery on small plinths wearing the clothes designed by Jacobs. Apart from the occasional shifting of pose, they were still and expressionless. There was a strange juxtaposition struck up between the models’ total lack of agency and the attention that they demanded from the audience. This is often an opposition which strikes me in fashion shows – that the models are supposed to almost be negative spaces but are simultaneously such obvious objects of fascination and desire.

Of course, unlike Beecroft’s armies of skinny girls, fashion models have a circumscribed purpose. In this case, it was to exhibit Jacobs’ new range of clothing, School of Shadows. I can’t sew, which makes it hard for me to appreciate the technical aspects of fashion design, and I don’t pretend to be an expert. But even I could enjoy the attention to detail and the quirky references of Jacobs’ designs.

This designer’s palette is simple – whites, greys and blacks. The interest lies in the multiple layers and complicated seams that make up the garments. Jacobs’ clothes are made to loosely drape around the body, and she builds up structure by layering pieces on top of each other. While dark and somewhat austere, Jacobs subtly references everything from military style to Grecian garments to give this range a point of difference.

Jacobs knows how to market herself. The launch was a success and the static models in the centre of the room encouraged the audience to move around the gallery and spend time looking closely at the clothes from different angles. As I left into the blustery night, pulling my woolen hat down around my ears, I did wonder at the practicality of Jacobs’ delicate constructions, her sheer knits seem no match for Wellington in July.