Jacobs’ ladder: Why we love Marc Jacobs
Something chic, something shocking, something arty, something pop: Marc Jacobs breathes youthful wit into the luxury market.
Within moments of arriving at Louis Vuitton headquarters in Paris, I’m ushered into Marc Jacobs’ office. The “cool kid” of fashion has invited me to tag along with him while he prepares for his fall/winter 2009 shows in Paris and New York. Before our interview begins, he sets aside a sketch he has been working on. “I have to hurry up and finish this before I start my day at Vuitton,” he says. “It’s for Marc by Marc Jacobs.” The consummate multi-tasker, who has been the creative director at LV for the past 12 years, thrives on change. “I’m always moving,” he says, smiling. “I don’t want to lock myself inside a box with a label on it!”
That said, he has taken one of fashion’s iconic labels and transformed it from slightly outdated to sexy and glamorous. “When I first got here, my mission was to play with the monogram,” he explains. “I started by making the monogram invisible — it was sort of a gag. I was inspired by the Marcel Duchamp painting of the Mona Lisa, where he added the letters “L. H. O. O. Q.” Duchamp wasn’t the only painter to inspire Jacobs. Since he started working for LV, he has invited artists like Stephen Sprouse and Takashi Murakami to work with him. “An artist’s touch gives value to a prestigious label and breaks down the barriers between art and fashion,” he explains.
Jacobs gets up from the table to put on an Amy Winehouse CD. “The first album,” he points out, “not [the one with] ‘Rehab,’” just in case anyone is tempted to make a connection between the singer’s troubles and Jacobs’ own tribulations with drugs and alcohol. After two stints in detox, Jacobs’ new drink of choice is Vittel water and his new addiction is working out. He also sticks to a dairy-free diet, dyes his hair jet black and sports a new signature look: a short Comme des Garçons kilt, black Doc Martens, big diamonds in his ears and a gold Rolex.
Jacobs is 46, but his aura is much younger. Adolescent fashion followers who scrutinize styles and write blogs about their latest finds adulate him. “He’s a pop icon,” says Antoine Arnault, director of communications at LV. And what does Jacobs think of his celebrity? “Karl Lagerfeld, John Galliano and Tom Ford all have an image,” he says. “I never used to manage mine, but now that I’ve taken things in hand, I feel better. When people buy brand-name clothing, they want something more than a label; they want to be able to put a name to the label and prefer the name to have a history.”
Jacobs has had a flair for the dramatic since he was a boy growing up in New York City. At an early age, he showed an interest in fashion, working as a stock boy at a small boutique. After graduating from the High School of Art and Design, he enrolled in Parsons The New School for Design. His first job at Perry Ellis was short-lived: Apparently, his fashion-forward “grunge” collection went against the Ellis aesthetic. He later teamed up with Robert Duffy and launched his own line in 1986.
Marc’s personal ups and downs on the next page …
His personal life also wasn’t without its drama. Jacobs spent most of his youth at his grandmother’s place on the Upper West Side. His father, an actors’ agent for William Morris, died when Jacobs was seven. His mother, who was a receptionist, wasn’t particularly interested in being a mother. He eventually cut ties with his mom, as well as his brother and sister. His real family is made up of Sofia Coppola, Elizabeth Peyton, Naomi Campbell and his business partner, Robert Duffy. Jacobs also has another family: two bull terriers named Daisy and Alfred. At present, he is happily engaged to Lorenzo Martone, a Brazilian advertising executive who is as tanned and fit as his partner.
Before we head to a brainstorming session for the fall/winter 2009 collection with his staff, Jacobs changes his kilt (now a Scottish plaid) and his shoes (a fluorescent Stephen Sprouse pair from the LV collection). “I know, I look like something from outer space!” he says, laughing. Jacobs’ management and creative style are inclusive: He doesn’t enter the studio and shout “This winter, it’s red or it’s nothing!” He says he genuinely likes the back and forth of the creative process, adding that “nobody succeeds alone.” His team — many of whom joined LV when he did — are experienced and extremely loyal. “If I decide to leave one day, I’ll change careers altogether because working with Marc is an opportunity — he is very endearing,” explains Maureen, his assistant for nine years. Isabelle Capece, public relations director at LV, is equally enamoured. “You love him right away!” she says.
During the meeting, Jacobs pores over images clipped from magazines. He lingers over new fabrics and carefully examines vintage pieces. Across the room, he spots a Pierre Cardin jacket on a stand and says that it reminds him of a coat worn by Emma Thompson. “The volume is very Vuitton!” Another staff member hands him a sample of printed twill. Jacob shapes and drapes it and then rolls it into a ball. “Marc is very involved — it’s really stimulating,” says Emilie Jacquet, who runs the leather studio. “He thinks that we can always break new ground!” When a stylist shows him a cocoon cape, he says that it has potential but questions whether it’s modern. “Work on it, but I have reservations. Anyway, we’ll see…” His voice trails off, and he draws the meeting to a close. It’s 6 p.m. and it’s time to hit the gym. “I love the effervescent feeling at the beginning of a collection,” he says as he heads for the door.
Fast-forward to New York Fashion Week. Jacobs’ show starts two minutes early — a far cry from the days when he kept people waiting for up to two hours — and it’s a bright, bold and playful counterpoint to the grim economic mood. After the show, Jacobs jet-sets back to Paris to finish his LV collection. There are plenty of last-minute changes, but his team understands. “Everyone plays along because we know that he’s always right,” says Jacquet. Understanding the link between business and creativity is one of Jacobs’ unique strengths, adds Arnault. “Marc sums up the paradox of many creative people,” he says. “He feels things deeply and comes across as very intuitive, but at the same time he knows exactly what is right for Louis Vuitton.”
A few days before the Paris show, I cross paths with Pietro Beccari, vice-president of communications and marketing at LV. So, how is everything coming along? “Marc is singing in the studio — it’s a good sign!” he says. On D-Day, the designer is waiting with Martone backstage for the start of the show. The hyperactivity of the pre- rehab era is gone: Everything is ready, and the show won’t even start for another 30 minutes. Strolling among the makeup artists, dressers and models, Jacobs appears dazzled by the lineup. He tells me that his inspiration came from French fashion muses Marie Seznec, Victoire de Castellane, Loulou de la Falaise and Inès de la Fressange. “I love their joie de vivre — and this joie de mode!”
His collection is flamboyant, and the voluminous silhouettes are “very Vuitton.” Brightly coloured bras under transparent blouses, puffball skirts and thigh-high boots reflect an ’80s-couture influence. For added whimsy, Jacobs has some of his models wearing stylized bunny-ear headbands. He later explains that the ears were inspired by a member of his design team. “I saw this piece of fabric wrapped around Lucy’s head and said ‘Bunny ears, that’s what we need to finish this look.’ I like the Playboy French coquette aspect to it.”
Like his New York show, the fashion spectacle goes off without a hitch, and the early reviews are positive, which doesn’t surprise Yves Carcelle, president and CEO of LV. “It’s like radar,” explains Carcelle. “Marc knows instinctively what people want.” Jacobs is a little cagey about the earlier reaction to his work. “Everyone wants to be polite backstage,” he says, stopping to take a sip of water from his champagne flute. “The real payoff is when I see women wearing my clothes.”