* Marc Jacobs Interview * The Turning Point (Mar 07 US Elle)

  1. (source: March 2007 issue of Elle - US Edition)


    Marc Jacobs is slouching down in a chair, scattered and confused, squinting in the afternoon sunlight, which shines through the high windows of his studio at Louis Vuitton's sleek Paris headquarters. "I'm looking for something I can't find," he says, dropping a pile of fabric swatches to the floor. But it's not what he says that immediately reveals the heart of a true romantic. It's the way he says it: softly, as though the moment is gone with it. You feel his longing; you know he thinks the idea will never come again.

    But of course it will. At 43, Jacobs is one of the most influential and profitable designers working today, and one of the most prolific. At Vuitton, Jacobs is responsible for more than a billion dollars' worth of clothing and accessories for both men and women. Combined with his signature men's and women's lines, and the lower-priced Marc by Marc Jacobs label, he oversees eight runway shows in New York and Paris each year, plus advertising fragrance business and 16 worldwide Marc Jacobs boutiques, with at least four more on the way. Jacobs readily acknowledges his design directors for their contributions-Peter Copping at Vuitton, Joseph Carter at Marc Jacobs, and all the designers on their teams. "You think I do all of this by myself?" Jacobs says, throwing his hands in the air. "I can't be involved in every single decision, and I'm not. I've changed a lot."

    The wide-eyed sweetness of his ethereal/urban spring collection -- the fourth in a series of visionary shows that began with the wildly oversize proportions of his fall 2005 line -- was hard-won. Jacobs, who by his own admission became sober several years ago, waged a very public battle with drug addiction that began with his appointment as Vuitton's artistic director in 1997. "Marc has always been curious," says Robert Duffy, his longtime business partner. "He always questions things: the way we see beauty, everything. And when he's sober, it's great. What's been the most difficult part is when he was just completely strung out on drugs."

    Today, Jacobs is a new man. "It's stimulating," Jacobs says of sobriety. "I'm exercising and eating well, and it comes across in my work."

    Making sense of Jacobs' spring show may prove just as challenging for the legions of Jacobs' obsessed fans. "I used to have this attitude that the runway was only an opportunity to show the clothes plainly, like against a white wall," Jacobs says. "Now I don't feel that: The show is a show and it has to transmit a mood and an atmosphere." The vast spring '07 landscape set by Stefan Beckman was painted in the lulling, deep pastels of Cuban artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres. A babbling brook of candy-blue mints meandered under a runway built on stilts. The butterfly sounds of Pachelbel's Canon filled the air, and at first glance the clothes seemed otherworldly. Oblong layers of jersey were draped over deeply pleated harem pants. Coats had broad, cartoonish collars. There were lollipop-size sequin polka dots, iridescent transparent blouses, shiny little raincoats, and a gray-and-white-stripe silk dress that billowed around Karen Elson like a storybook bug's cocoon. And yet, somehow, this fairy-tale nomad also wore a bomber jacket and carried a hard-edge metallic bag. "Spring wasn't aspirational at all," Jacobs says. "I didn't want to convince anyone of anything or suggest some way to dress. It was just a fashion moment that exists somewhere in this weird outside."

    Equal parts '70s disco joyride, '50s WASP, and A Midsummer Night's Dream, the collection, like most of Jacobs' designs, is laced with references to his personal pantheon of icons. "I love fashion, and I admire the work of other designers," he says. "There is a period of Krizia that I love, when Walter Albini was designing it in the '60s. And I love Schiaparelli, and Rei [Kawakubo], and Junya [Watanabe], and Yohji [Yamamoto]. They are real designers designing these things I love. But I just do what I've always done and try to improve on that. It's never a romantic attitude about the past. The past is past and now is now."

    And indeed, notwithstanding the references to his heroes, spring was one of Jacobs' least retro-looking collections ever. "I am this American designer, educated in a certain way, thinking about usefulness. I'm not deeply intellectual about it all," he says.

    Jacobs and his team worked on the collection for about four months. "We started out with things we knew, all the things we always do: little suits, T-shirts, coats, sweaters," Jacobs says. But despite the elusive poetic mood of the spring collection, Jacobs explains that it began as a technical challenge rather than an emotional one. "Spring is really an evolution of last fall," he says. "It's the same heavy, romantic things, taken into spring. It started as a black cocktail suit, and the black turned neutral. But the suit looked too conventional, so we reworked the patterns by cutting and draping and it turned into all these little bands. It's about creating the lightness."

    But that is an understatement. Jacobs' collections are always provocative, and for the fashion insider he is a true arbiter of change. At first glance his silhouettes appear exaggerated for real life, but what may seem outlandish or kooky likely suggests a shift in how women will be dressing for years to come. In our status-crazed world of camera-ready looks, Jacobs reaches for a willful lack of self-consciousness that is in fact altogether American.

    Look past the pixie party dresses and gilded ladybug hats, and what you see is a classic wardrobe made extreme with new proportions. "All of my collections are cliches of American sportswear," he says. "There's always a peacoat jacket and pants. Okay, now they have a superlow crotch and the jacket is kangaroo and not wool melton, but still. I mean, look at this," Jacobs says, pointing to a runway photo of a silver leather raincoat worn narrow and long over calf-grazing pants. "Talk about American sportswear. She might as well be Chessy Rayner in three easy pieces it's so American."

    (to be continued..)
  2. ^ Jacobs was born in Manhattan and lived in and out of the city after his parents divorced. In high school, he moved in with his grandmother, who had an apartment off Central Park West. Jacobs was a fixture on the downtown club scene in the ‘80s while studying at the Parsons School of Design. In 1984, he brought that life-is-a-party feeling to his senior thesis collection. Robert Duffy, a young executive at Ruben Thomas, a Seventh Avenue manufacturer, hired him the moment he saw it. "Those sweaters," Duff recalls, "were unbelievable. They were knitted by hand and absolutely charming. I said, ‘Who designed this?’ It wasn’t anything I had seen before."

    Since that time, Jacobs and Duffy have been in business together. Their first label at Ruben Thomas, Sketchbook, debuted in 1985 with oversize happy-face sweaters and polka dot pajama pants. Jacobs’ youthful energy was an antidote to the city of Calvin Klein and Donna Karan, and he became a darling in the fashion press. In 1989, Jacobs was named the designer for Perry Ellis; Duffy was named president. Three years later, Jacobs caused a sensation with his infamous Grunge collection, a citified retooling of Kurt Cobain’s gritty, discordant Seattle style that was panned by most critics and got the partners fired.

    But that collection made Jacobs a star. He saw a very American glamour where most had seen only a pile of laundry, and he has challenged our ideas of beauty ever since. "I’ve always been more interested in imperfection than perfection, but it’s a balancing act," Jacobs says. "I find that what I love is an awkwardness and an admiration for beauty that’s less conventional. That started with grunge. But I thought it was a beautiful time. It wasn’t ugly. It was about discord, and I thought that was beautiful. That was a show and a collection and a moment that really inspired me. Most shows I don’t like, but I’d say I really, really, liked that one."

    Jacobs and Duffy worked independently to build the Marc Jacobs brand until, in 1997, LVMH bought a majority stake in Marc Jacobs International, and he in turn became the artistic director of Louis Vuitton, the crown jewel of the luxury group’s many brands. LVMH also funded the expansion of Jacobs’ own accessory business and Marc by Marc Jacobs.

    (to be continued..)
  3. ^ Throughout his career, Jacobs has favored the eccentrically chic clothes that make him a favorite of indie actresses and singers like Kirsten Dunst and Chan Marshall. "There has always been a similar thread that runs through it all," Duffy says. "The proportions have always been very specific. Sometimes slim with a high armhole, sometimes oversize, but the extreme proportions have always been there. And knitwear, we’ve always done a lot of it. And there has always been a very open, friendly quality to the collections. There has never been anything overtly sexy, or sexy in a vulgar way. Marc’s sketches are always sort of awkward, and there is an awkward quality to the girls in the show; that has never changed. What has changed is the mastery of his craft and the money to get the message out, but the message has always been there."

    Each of Jacobs’ early standout collections introduced elements of the vocabulary used this spring. Glam, shown the year after Jacobs left Perry Ellis, started the use of shine with rhinestones and glittering beads. In 1992, Rock & Roll Circus was the first time he referenced glamour and highlighted accessories. Mod, which was shown at the Plaza Hotel in April 1995, started his exploration of severe cutting, with the high armhole, and of luxury, with fur, leather, and suede. The layering of soft shapes that is essentially Marc Jacobs began with the minimalist collections of spring 1998 and fall ‘98. But the anti-establishment spirit of the spring ‘07 collection also has echoes of Grunge. The collections share a cheeky rebellion that grows from Jacobs’ love of punk rock. "I love that period," Jacobs says, "but for its aesthetic, not its content. I don’t think of myself as rebellious. I’m not against things. The work we do is friendly. I don’t think the world is a horrible place."

    Jacobs, however, did not really consider Grunge a breakthrough. And while critics called the oversize silhouettes of fall 2005 another milestone collection, Jacobs did not. "I don’t look at them as breakthroughs," Jacobs says, uneasy with the word. "When we get the fit of a sleeve right that has never worked, that’s a breakthrough. Then there’s the show, where the girls look perfect and the music is perfect, and the set, and that’s a breakthrough. But we’ve never had a perfect show. There are always mistakes."

    Jacobs laughs recalling the cover of Women’s Wear Daily that featured Daria Werbowy in one of his shows with her skirt on backward. And the spring Marc Jacobs show got off to an awkward start when the first model in the lineup pulled off her shoes halfway down the runway. "Something always goes wrong, but we do the best we can," Jacobs says humbly. "Now [spring ‘07] Miu Miu: That was a perfect show, perfect on every level. The shape. The fit. So studied. So precise. In my head that’s where I’d like to be. That perfect, that precise. It was a single note, fine-tuned."

    Jacobs’ sobriety has given him the energy to be even more productive. Last fall, he designed 42 costumes for choreographer Benjamin Millepied’s Amovea, which debuted at the Opera Garnier in Paris. The shimmering togas were made from metallic velvet on the same looms used by legendary French couturiere Madeleine Vionnet. "Working on the ballet was fascinating to me," he says. "This idea of making something that is strong, but that would disappear. People are there to see dancers, not the clothes. Yet on the other hand, I wanted them to leave an impression."

    And this spring he will introduce Cucumber and Orange to his seasonal Splash fragrances. Jacobs thinks both will be perfectly crisp and refreshing for hot summer days. "The whole idea of Splash comes from memory," he says of the signature big bottles. "I mean, I always remember those Jean Nate ads, and women pampering themselves and indulging their whims, just throwing it on by the bottle fresh out of the bath."

    Jacobs moves from his desk to the piles of books and sketches on the floor, still hoping to remember the idea that has slipped away before his next design meeting begins. "I never see the shoes and bags together at the same time," he says with a sigh, "but I know what the fabric looks like, and sometimes it all comes together, and sometimes it doesn’t."

    But there are optimistic times for Jacobs, and the idea will surely come again. "When he got sober, the spark came back, and that was amazing," Duffy says. "That was everything."
  4. Great article bag.lover! Very interesting; thanks for posting!
  5. He's so clever and inspired!!!...and willing to try things that don't necessarily work. A wonderfully evil (if not humble) genious. :devil:. Intriguing...many thanks again, bag.lover...I'll still pick up the issue tomorrow.

    Getting antsy to see what's in store for Fall 2007 :ninja: