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Heaven is a Place on Earth

By Lara Levetan

Marc Jacobs’ diffusion line Heaven, which launched in September 2020, is the brainchild of the esteemed New York designer and infamous Instagram fashion bootlegger, Ava Nirui. The line serves as a multi-sensory amalgam that teleports a whole new generation of fashion enthusiasts into the angsty and curated dreamscape of an early aughts’ teenage bedroom. Jacobs’ direct-to-consumer collection manages to tug at our nostalgic heartstrings with its infusion of queer iconography, refreshing blend of artistic collaborations, and overall tongue-in-cheek youthful spirit. What’s more is Heaven’s unmistakable tribute to 90s cult cinema which, as the collection’s name wittingly suggests, explores the absurd, fantastical, obsessive, and melancholic experience of adolescence and fictions that document it.

This October, Heaven released a capsule collection paying homage to Sofia Coppola’s 1999 film The Virgin Suicides. The film follows the tale of the five Lisbon sisters in 1970s suburban Michigan as they grapple with the complexities and tragedies of teenage life. Coppola’s directorial debut adapting Jeffrey Eugenides’ 1993 novel of the same name has earned the prominent mantle of ‘cult’, owing to its poetic interrogation of teenage girlhood, coming-of-age, mental illness, religious repression, sexual exploration and suburban monotony.

The capsule collection features an array of items adorned with the face of the movie’s star, Kirsten Dunst (A.K.A Lux Lisbon), including a hoodie, a crossbody bag, a matching skirt and blouse set, and more. Heaven’s flagship store on Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, also hosted an immersive exhibition featuring unseen memorabilia from the film, such as the films’ CD soundtrack, The Virgin Suicides zine and the Lisbon sisters’ spiral notebook.

Lux Lisbon, the focal point and object of desire of her pubescent neighbours in the film, embodies the enigmatic nature of femininity through the voyeuristic lens – craved yet unattainable, exhibiting a desperate plea for freedom from the claustrophobic confines of a sheltered existence. Although The Virgin Suicides unfolds from the narrative gaze of onlooking teenage boys, the film still exudes the quality of being crafted through and for the female gaze. Coppola’s directorial prowess extends beyond beauty and pastel hallucinations; she wields her aesthetic fantasy as a means of exploring the trials and tribulations of coming-of-age. A piece of dialogue that perfectly encapsulates this theme occurs when the youngest Lisbon sister, Cecilia, visits a psychiatrist after her first suicide attempt.

"What are you doing here, honey? You're not even old enough to know how bad life gets."

"Obviously, Doctor, you've never been a 13-year-old girl."

Heaven’s direct celebration of the cult film not only speaks to the enduring friendship between Jacobs and Coppola but stands as a testament to their shared attentiveness to the angst, torment and disillusionment that is enmeshed within the adolescent experience. While some critics have relegated Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides as a collage of clichéd archetypes allusive of girlhood – pastel undergarments, glossy fashion magazines and a mishmash of vintage beauty products – it is these precise motifs from where Heaven has taken inspiration.

Beyond Heaven’s reverence for The Virgin Suicides and its subversive visual and narrative mastery, the line also features photobooks and pamphlets from other entries in Coppola’s cultish filmography. From Lost in Translation photo books, Marie Antoinette Japanese movie pamphlets and The Bling Ring vintage poster multi-packs, it is clear that Jacobs’ homage to Sofia Coppola serves to capture the timeless themes of teenage alienation, curation and obsession that lend themselves to the ‘bratty baby sister’ essence evoked by Jacobs’ Heaven line. The brand’s steadfast tribute to 90s cult cinema is further explored with Heaven’s use of former child star Christina Ricci as the face of their newest campaign. Ricci, who is most recognised for her roles as Wednesday Addams in the 1993 rendition of Addams Family Values, 13-year-old Kat in the 1995 film Casper, as well as Layla from the 1998 film Buffalo ‘66, is pictured with a baby-bump-baring patchwork cardigan, black underwear and mod makeup – all grown up. The choice is unsurprising yet brilliant, given that Wednesday Addams’ moody, macabre and quick-witted demeanour was the blueprint for an entire generation of angsty adolescents circa-1995.

The use of iconic, nostalgic cinema motifs are also littered throughout the Heaven collection, which features artwork from contemporary American artist Katherine Bernhardt, renowned for her signature graphic spray paint style. Taking inspiration from the 1982 sci-fi classic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and the immortalised Garfield cartoon developed in the late 1980s, Bernhardt’s work is printed on a selection of pieces, including hoodies, sweater vests, puffy shoulder bags, baby tees, and home goods. These absurd yet familiar pieces encapsulate Jacobs’ clear penchant for referencing 90s pop culture and subculture, as well as his desire to recontextualise and revamp recognisable and sentimental characters for the enjoyment of a whole new generation.

Heaven’s tribute to cult cinema and pop culture motifs extends beyond the referential with the brand hosting a drive-in screening of Gregg Araki’s 1997 film, Nowhere, in September 2020. The film Nowhere concludes Araki’sof ‘Teen Apocalypse’ trilogy – following the lives of a group of Los Angeles college students as they navigate libertinage and “recklessness”. The film explores the sexual awakening, cynicism and melodramatic experience of teenager Dark, played by James Duval. Despite its poor critical acclaim, the film has earned cult status due to its provocative, satirical nod to the teen movie genre itself, a scrutiny of celebrity obsession and, most notably, its portrayal of queer sexual fluidity on screen that brazenly discards restrictive boundaries and labels. Heaven’s screening of Nowhere speaks to a celebration of adolescent fantasies, as well as the understanding that as a teen your problems and pressures feel magnified, skyrocketing to apocalyptic proportions. On the whole the films’ absurd, incendiary plot is Heaven’s 90s teen angst in a nutshell.

Heaven draws upon the teenage daydreams, alienation and fantasies that are imbued within 90s cult cinema and have since become enigmatic cultural touchstones, taking on a life of their own for the modern epoch. It’s collaborations and multi-sensory collections are feasts for pop culture enthusiasts, working to connect sentimental subcultures and reimagine them for a new generation yearning for the experience of obsessive teen curation and creativity.

It’s clear that heaven really is a place on earth – and it’s a 90s teenage bedroom.

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