When New York Fashion Week starts on Friday, Feb. 1, many will promptly begin anticipating its climax seven days later, when Marc Jacobs is scheduled to show his fall 2008 collection at the Lexington Avenue Armory at 7 p.m.—an improvement over last season’s 9 p.m. start time, which turned into 11 p.m. Mr. Jacobs had emerged from a stint in rehab tanned, honed and—after a thorough drubbing from a normally tolerant press—kinda defensive.
Near-pathological tardiness aside, the designer, 44, still sets the standard for American ready-to-wear, the way Donna Karan did in the 1990’s and Calvin Klein in the 1980’s. While Ms. Karan stood for the career woman and Mr. Klein for sex, Mr. Jacobs has always been about the youth market, managing an unprecedented blend of runaway commercial success and subversive indie credibility. (Who else could attract both Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and Posh Spice to his front row?) He has made his name on the idea that cool young women, like his oft-cited muse Sofia Coppola, would pay a lot of money to look like themselves—artsy and intellectual, with an understated, rather than overt, sexuality—rather than an idealized, aspirational version of femininity. And—so far at least—he has never stooped to hawking his wares at Target, Kohl’s or H&M.
As Mr. Jacobs has attained international success, a new generation of threadsters is following in his wake, drawing inspiration from young, hip tastemakers (i.e., their friends); blurring the lines between casual and formal wear; using nostalgic and nerdy cultural references; and invoking a healthy sense of irony. The “next” Marc Jacobses—because he is the standard now in American fashion, much as Michael Jordan was once the standard in American basketball—make very different clothes but are united by a similar sense of their customer as a gal who gets it; as a girl who mixes and matches, buys expensive pieces to wear alongside throwaway T-shirts, who has a downtown sensibility and an unforced girliness and never looks to be trying hard. Herein, a few mini-Marcs on the rise.
Label/Designer Alexander Wang, 24
Making his Marc: Mr. Wang interned for Mr. Jacobs before dropping out of Parsons as a sophomore to start his own line. The older man is “somebody that I’ll always look up to,” he said. “The way he brought high, low and street to runway influenced what I believed in.”
Show: Saturday, Feb. 2, 5 p.m., 540 West 21st Street. (Showing off-site: totally MJ!) Following his breakout show at the downtown Bumble & Bumble last fall, which was as notable for its definitively casual, cool-girl aesthetic as for the fact that seemingly half the invited guests were turned away by the fire marshal, Mr. Wang this time scouted a larger space. It’s a “big empty warehouse,” he said. “It’s very industrial and raw. We’re building a scaffolding structure around the runway. … I wanted to do something where the girls looked like they were walking in the streets at 4 in the morning, not on this perfect little pretty runway.”
Sofias: Model Erin Wasson styled his last show—which featured messy-haired mannequins in cuffed denim shorts, T-shirts and unstructured jackets—after he met her in the elevator of his Lower East Side apartment building, and she’s back on board this time. Friends like Danielle Steel’s daughters the Traina sisters, Keith Richards’ daughter Alexandra, and skinny actress Mischa Barton attended his sweaty rock ’n’ roll after-party in the fall.
The vision thing: “Hoodies over dresses, really blurring that line between day wear and evening wear, not focusing on what was appropriate,” Mr. Wang said. “I started thinking about rebels and graffiti artists and bad boys and punk and applying it to something that was much more refined and rich. Not necessarily a long gown or party dress … Woolly, amazing trousers with a top can be evening wear.“
Label/Designer Chris Benz, 25
Making his Marc: Another former Jacobs intern and J. Crew dress designer, Mr. Benz catapulted into the wider fashion consciousness this past fall with a heady, brightly colored spring collection based on the high-concept idea of an idle starlet in a Hollywood Hills mansion, all dressed up with nowhere to go. “Super-chic, but so cool at the same time!” exulted Beth Buccini of the high-end SoHo boutique Kirna Zabete.
Show: Monday, Feb. 4, 5 p.m., at the old-fashioned literary haunt Lotos Club, 5 East 66th Street. Inspired by “the weird old French ladies” Mr. Benz saw on a fall trip to Paris. Specifically: “How they layered-up slips with wool tights, 50’s jackets, funny rumpled hats from the back of their closet,” he said. “I was thinking about this sort of character as a younger girl.”
Sofias: Mr. Benz’s good friends Elettra Rosellini Wiedemann, Lancome model and daughter of actress Isabella, and Eva Amurri, daughter of actress Susan Sarandon.
The vision thing: “That mix of casual and formal is really the modern way to dress,” said Mr. Benz, who paired floor-length cotton frocks with Christian Louboutin flats for his spring collection. “There is definitely a play between that and a careful ‘matchiness,’ which I also find modern. Like grown-up ‘Grrranimals’ or something.”
Label/Designer Phillip Lim, 34
Making his Marc: The current darling of the Council of Fashion Designers, which doles out the industry’s most coveted honors, Mr. Lim got a 2007 award for Emerging Talent in Women’s Wear and two nominations for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund. He opened his first store in SoHo this past summer with a socialite-studded party, and has helped drive the dress craze of recent years.
Show: Wednesday, Feb. 6, Bryant Park, Promenade, 5 p.m.
Sofias: Uptown socialites to downtown artists (oh, and Gossip Girl’s Blair Waldorf, of course). “The question is, who isn’t wearing Phillip Lim,” said Bergdorf Goodman senior women’s fashion director Roopal Patel.
The vision thing: Mr. Lim invokes Mr. Jacobs at his most wearable and accessible: flattering dresses, creative headgear, great jackets. “It just keeps getting better!” excitedly e-mailed Jennifer Mankins, owner of the Brooklyn-based boutique Bird, who has been buying Mr. Lim’s “3.1” line (named for the age he was when he started it) since 2005. “Each piece is sophisticated, beautiful, intricately detailed and strikes the perfect balance between trendy and timeless. There is also a pervasive element of humor, whimsy and ease in the collection that resonates with my youthful customers. Of all the developing talent out there today, I feel he really deserves the attention he gets.”
Label/Designers Rag & Bone, by Marcus Wainwright, 32, and David Neville, 31
Making their Marc: Also CFDA darlings, these British transplants staged a celeb-studded show last fall at Cipriani featuring actress Kate Bosworth, the former Sienna boy-toy Jamie Burke, Courtney Love and the rapper Nick Cannon in the front row. While Messrs. Wainwrig
ht and Neville started in men’s wear, they’ve expanded to “clothes for girls that guys think girls look good in,” Mr. Wainwright, focusing on casual basics and English tailoring.
Show: Friday, Feb. 1 , Cipriani, 110 East 42nd Street. “The rough inspiration is Blade Runner,” said Mr. Wainwright. “I don’t know that a lot of other people have come up with that idea. … We just love that very dated idea of what the future might be like. The clothes are very 40’s, some with a lot of hair and makeup. … As designers, we borrow strongly from the past while trying to remain contemporary. … It’s dark, gloomy. It’s moody.”
Sofias: “It’s not something we do for Paris Hilton,” Mr. Wainwright said, striking an off-Marc note. (Mr. Jacobs seems to adore slightly tainted celebs like Winona Ryder and Posh Spice.) “Something we maybe do for Kate Bosworth. She doesn’t try hard to look great, but because of that she does look great.” Mr. Neville, meanwhile, is married to the well-known makeup artist Gucci Westman. “We both have American wives, and we wanted to make clothes for them,” Mr. Wainwright said.
The vision thing: “We try and have sweatshirts, and we also have cashmere sweaters. … We used to have trouble finding other brands we resonated with,” Mr. Wainwright said. “But now that’s getting easier. We’re all trying in some way to be the next Marc.”