Meet the Mini-Marcs

When New York Fashion Week starts on Friday, Feb. 1, many will promptly begin anticipating its climax seven days later,

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.

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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.

Meet the Mini-Marcs