Like the aesthetic sensibility of Marcel and her cohorts, this music scene is also deeply influenced by internet-bred sampling and hip-hop production techniques, an artful pastiche of nostalgic noises that feed the look and feel of their subculture through online file sharing, YouTube benders and message boards, in mind, and late night at the clubs, in body. “I do get this palpable sense, just being around my friends and people in the city right now, that there’s really exciting stuff happening and there’s a change happening,” says Marcel. “I feel like I’m actually experiencing it as it’s happening. GHE20 G0TH1K, Venus X, and Kingdom, these really are new sounds. It’s a totally new thing, and it’s challenging people.” Marcel’s tendency to idealize the fashion and art scene in the late ’80s and early ’90s is due to the fact that it’s largely cosigned by a similar aesthetic, sound and mentality. She cites people like Patrick Kelly and his groundbreaking prêt-à-porter line in Paris and Lady Miss Kier, the former textile designer/Deee-Lite singer, and the painter Kenny Scharf, both of whom came out of the rich interdisciplinary New York art scene and who continue to be a source for inspiration and encouragement for the new downtown set. “They’ve been really supportive of all these kids who basically had their lives changed and get to do what they do because of [them], and [in turn, they] are experiencing a renaissance at the same time the generation they helped inspire are creating a renaissance. So it’s this powerful moment.”
In her autobiography D.V., longtime fashion editor Diana Vreeland offers a truism that Marcel would surely agree with, that “one’s period is when one is very young.” Like Vreeland, Marcel is able to match her overwhelmingly nostalgic character with a deep enthusiasm for the present. She’s keeping the dream alive. “When I was a tween and a teen, I went through various stages, but when I went through my alternative stages, Esprit and Benetton were so important to me. The “‘Mall Witch’” collection started out with me asking people at parties, ‘Can you pinpoint the time when you realized you wanted to be alternative?’” For Marcel it’s about basic joys, big personality and the comfort of feeling like you’re a part of something larger than yourself. In that way, the far-out wackiness of her prints and jeans serve more as a huge, enthusiastic thumbs-up smiley face stamp of approval for being different.
Back at the photo shoot, as Marcel helps a sylph-like model shimmy into her slime-green “wedding dress” piece, she jokes that bits of glue (which help adhere the dress to varying-sized busts) are not actually meant to be part of the overall look, and then takes a turn towards the serious. “When you put a body into [a garment], and that person is expressing it from their point of view, to me, that’s when the most powerful moment [happens]. To have that person on the street bring it to life in their own way and add their own energy. That’s the bottom line of why I do what I do.” It’s a little window into her work as a designer, and the challenges she faces in a world that seems to value less and less the art of fashion and instead is a slave to it, season-by-ever-churning season. On an inspirational cork board, sandwiched somewhere between personal photos, pictures of all her heroes—Mrs. Vreeland, Natalie Gibson, Dolly Parton and Betsey Johnson, among others—and an illustration of a power fist, Marcel’s pinned a fortune cookie-like slip of paper with a typed quote from Cecil Beaton, that reads:
Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.
Marcel is so far from commonplace, it’s almost easy to overlook the quality of her output. But it’s worth a second look. All one has to do is scan her studio to know that textiles are her passion and her extraordinary gift. Industrial shelves are stacked high with piles of exuberantly printed yardage—country patchwork-printed denims, pastel leopard print, black-and-white flamingo patterns, a carnival-sized teddy bear made of denim. Each stands as evidence that her commitment to the craft is never at the sake of humor. Her taste is a bit bold and brash—tacky, even—but never unconsidered, like a Tumblr whose every post has been hand painted. “I’m obsessed with that Andre Walker quote from MTV’s House of Style where he was like, ‘Tomorrow is going to be even grosser than today,’” says Marcel, eyes shining gleefully. “I love grossness, but grossness with an eye for sophistication.”