INTERVIEW: Marc Jacobs

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My very first memory of Marc Jacobs is probably an old shot of the fashion guru pinning up Kate Moss in some backstage photo-book by Mario Testino, or it might be an interview party from the magazine’s early 90’s archives, caught up in a “loving-drunkie” situation, looking all cuddly yet scruffy with a cigarette in one hand and Naomi Campbell or Christy Turlington in the other - I can’t remember. But the hey-days of wild partying and geek-heroine-chic look are far behind the 45-year-old designer.

He ditched the science-lab, thick-framed glasses and the long greasy locks for a blingful of earlobes, a shaved cut, and a buffed-up bronzed physique - a metamorphism not witnessed in fashion since Karl Lagerfeld’s dramatic weight loss. in other words, today Marc J looks more likely to come out of the Donatella Versace catwalk, less likely to cameo as a scrub intern on the set of Grey’s anatomy.

along with the change in his physical appearance came one success after another. today, Marc Jacobs is considered the most prolific and influential American designer of the past decade. his collections for Louis Vuitton, and for his own eponymous line Marc Jacobs Collections and the less-expensive diffusion line Marc by Marc Jacobs are arguably the weather forecast of the fashion world. even established designer names from London, Milan, or Paris have long admitted to wait for the showcase of MJ’s collection in New York Fashion Week (which precedes the other cities’ in the fashion calendar) before they decide which direction they should go in their own collection. he is, after all, America’s answer to Italy’s Miuccia Prada: the most- anticipated show, the can’t-miss after party, and of course, the unpredictable designer behind it all who is able to awe/delight/scare the fashion critics altogether.

but Jacobs battled years of coke addiction and bankruptcy before he became at the pinnacle of his success. after graduating from New York’s parsons School of design in 1984, Jacobs launched his first collection under his name in 1986, and in 1989, he was hired as womenswear director and vice-president at Perry Ellis. in 1993, he was fired from the American casual-sportswear label after presenting his controversial, now infamous, “grunge” collection. although critically- acclaimed, the collection inspired by the Seattle-based rock band nirvana made many wonder if they actually wanted to pay good money to look poor or dressed-down a la Kurt Cobain or even Courtney love.

Fashion is cyclical, and, like pop music, people want newness from the performers they enjoy, but they also want new performers. It’s like you may be dying to hear the next song from Madonna because you’re a Madonna fan, but you also want to know who’s the next Madonna.
— Marc Jacobs

despite the setback, Marc re-launched his label in 1994 with the help of business partner Robert Duffy. in the fashion world, there is always this artist/businessman formula behind every success story of any brand. Duffy is to Marc J what Pierre Bergé was to Yves Saint Laurent, and what Giancarlo Giammetti is to Valentino: an indispensable driving force whose sole purpose is to commercialize the vision of the artist. While duffy helped the company to get back on its feet, it was MJ’s famous model friends that literally made it walk. “he didn’t have any money to pay us,” once revealed longtime pal Naomi Campbell. “i was like, ‘don’t worry, we’re going to do it for you.’ and the girls all did it for free.”

but the cards have been turned for Marc Jacobs when he was appointed creative director for louis vuitton. ever since tom Ford gave a new lease of life for Gucci and transformed it from a family-owned luggage company to a globally renowned business, luxury groups have been headhunting young designers to pump life into their dormant labels. When Marc J arrived at Louis Vuitton in 1997, he had no references or archives of shoes, bags, or jewelry, let alone of clothes (in fact, his first collection for Louis Vuitton was the very first ready-to-wear line in the history of the prestigious Parisian name). however, through fusing his edgy urban sensibility with Vuitton’s French bourgeois disposition, the all-American Jewish guy from New York quadrupled the house’s business from $1.2 billion to $4.8 billion in only ten years since his arrival. Furthermore, in 2001, Jacobs managed to have his own multi-brand company, Marc Jacobs international, with the help of Robert Duffy and the financial backing of lvMh.

today, Marc Jacobs is not so much famous for what he does as for what his name represents. ask any insular republican from Midwest America about the name and you would get a nod of recognition. the answers might be “an actor” or a “rock star”- alright, but at least his name sounds familiar. in fashion, he is just as famous as any of the celebrities who religiously occupy the front row of his most-coveted shows. even his flagship store on Bleecker Street is a New York landmark and one of the prominent stops in the Sex and the City bus tour.

after all, Marc Jacobs himself is a cultural touchstone in modern fashion. his ability to weave pop culture into luxury fashion has invented the term “collaboration”, and resulted in many thereafter with such artists as Stephen Sprouse, Julie Verhoeven, and Takashi Murakami. he is the only designer of his generation who is not afraid to be dubbed “commercial.” in fact, he celebrates commercialism in fashion, that the brand is the product being sold, whereas other starving designers are still under the impression that their work is pure art, ambivalent of their financial struggle.

this is what makes him a unique visionaire; someone who is able to embody a lifestyle and more importantly, market it as a product of dreams. but unlike other designer visions, his is almost down-to-earth. it is like he is constantly hosting a pimps’n’hoes - themed party in the lavish salons of Laduree, building juxtaposition between the realities of the streets and the lifestyles of the aristocrats. perhaps as a testament of this, he once installed a street vendor outside Brooklyn Museum at the launch of Murakami’s exhibition, and hired a salesman dressed in rag clothes and a skullcap to sell real lv bags (worth $3000 each) just to mock the real vendors stacking faux lv-monogrammed goods on the streets of East Asia. and if you are not amused yet, well, he certainly is.

TEXT BY Ryan Houssari

ArtEli Rezkallah