Bewitching Ruins: Sculptor Rachel Feinstein Discusses Building Her Set for Marc Jacobs’s Runway Show

Bewitching Ruins: Sculptor Rachel Feinstein Discusses Building Her Set for Marc Jacobs’s Runway Show
Rachel Feinstein's set for Marc Jacobs Fall/Winter 2012
(Courtesy Billy Farrell Agency)

NEW YORK — A couple of weeks ago designer Marc Jacobs sent an email to his friend, artist Rachel Feinstein, with a request for his eponymous label’s fashion show. “Would you be interested in doing my set?” he wrote. Feinstein immediately went to his SoHo office. When she arrived, the designer had an image of her 2008 sculpture of a black carriage, “Puritan’s Delight,” on his desk. He continued to show Feinstein other sources he'd collected: photos of old women dressed up in black, a funny Web site featuring eccentric old ladies, Dr. Suess’s Cat in the Hat, and Kurt Cobain wearing a rainbow scarf made with a tinsel-like material.

“I had this idea of a castle that was going to have a moat and a drawbridge, and the show was going to have a whole bed of ice,” Feinstein told ARTINFO. “He was like, I love that idea, but I don’t want fairy tales, I don’t want this to be about Sleeping Beauty and Disney. I want it to be about sadness and decay, and getting older.”

So Feinstein presented Jacobs with Xerox copies of old ruins — an early Italian fresco, a Rococo-style grotto, and two more images of crumbling buildings. “I cut them out into shapes that were flat, so there was negative space around them,”  said Feinstein. “I put them onto a paper stage set where it was like a seamless backdrop, so the whole paper rolled out into this runway that has a swirling path pattern, and he loved it.” That was their last meeting; from there, Feinstein had free reign.

Set designer Stefan Beckman had the task of turning Feinstein’s concept into a functional mise-en-scene models could actually walk on. “I had done all these cool entrances that had to be changed because of safety regulations,” said Feinstein. “I had a staircase that was at 28 feet, and they were like, there’s no way that we can have a girl coming down from there — it’s just too dangerous.”

Feinstein gave specific orders: “I don’t want to have right angles,” she said. “I don’t want this to be overbuilt. It has to look like it’s crazy and wacky and that it’s made out of paper.”

Then construction began. On February 6, exactly a week before the Marc Jacobs show, CAD drawings were created and fed into a laser cutter. The following day, the wood was ordered and the building began. On Wednesday and Thursday, they started on the staircases, and by Friday the buildings’ fronts were complete. Saturday, Feinstein arrived with three assistants to add the finishing touches to the set — cut pieces of luan, a cheap, thin wood. “We never slept,” said Feinstein.

Jacobs saw the spectacular set for the first time only an hour before his show on February 13, and the reviews of Feinstein's set were overwhelmingly positive. The artist found it incredible that Jacobs trusted her with such a feat.

“People always talk about me as being the muse to my husband [artist John Currin] and the muse to [Jacobs],” Feinstein said. “But for him to make this just about my art, and to walk in, it wasn’t a picture of me, it was a picture of this sculpture I made — it really made me feel so amazing.”