Marc Jacobs (2001)
Marc Jacobs is one of the greatest designers around. He's also awfully busy, designing clothing, accessories, and shoes for Louis Vuitton, his own Marc Jacobs collection, and his newest line, Marc by Marc Jacobs. So we were thrilled when his friend Juergen Teller convinced Marc to set aside some time for a few portraits just one day before the Louis Vuitton men's line was to appear on the runway in Paris. Juergen got the last train out of London, and arranged to sleep over at Marc's place that night. Early the next morning, Juergen shot Marc in the precious moments before the chaos of the day could intrude. On a more serene afternoon, Mary Clarke talked to Marc in New York...
MARY: How much time are you spending in Paris these days?
MARC: Probably more than half. I've moved my cat and dog there, and I sold my New York apartment.
MARY: Do you speak French?
MARC: No, not very well. I've made no effort to learn, and I'm a bit ashamed that I haven't. Most people around me speak English. I really love Paris, I love my life there. It's a new place, and I still get lost. I don't get lost in New York.
MARY: What part of the city do you live in?
MARC: In the 7th, near Saint-Germain. I like spending time at home. In Paris, people drop by and have a bite to eat, or they drop by and watch Friends on TV. I take my dog to the office there, and I walk to work sometimes.
MARY: Is there anything that you miss about New York when you're there?
MARC: Not really. Sometimes I miss hamburgers, I should say that. I miss the tuna pizzas at Mercer Kitchen.
MARY: So I'm guessing you stay at the Mercer when you're in New York?
MARC: Yeah. It's close to the offices — much more convenient than where I used to live, which was all the way uptown.
MARY: I love the shopping in Paris. Do you collect anything?
MARC: I've been collecting furniture. After moving to Paris I became interested in furniture and ceramics by Prouv?. I'd never bought a piece of furniture in my life until I had this apartment. But now I have enough furniture to live with, and probably some to spare. If I see a piece I like more than the one I have, I trade up.
MARY: The first time I saw your work was back in the mid-'80s when I was an editor at Seventeen. You were doing sweaters.
MARC: Yeah. I learned to knit from my grandmother. She loved to knit in front of the TV before going shopping for pantyhose at Saks Fifth Avenue or cosmetics at Lord & Taylor, or wherever she was going.
MARY: You're a city kid.
MARC: I grew up with my grandmother on the Upper West Side. Anyway, I learned to knit, and I used to design sweaters. Then when it came time to do my senior project at Parsons many years later, I had Perry Ellis as a critic. I designed these three really oversized, very heavy, hand-knit sweaters.
MARY: I just took up knitting again.
MARC: It's really relaxing. Needlepoint, too. I'm working on Jeff Koons' Puppy right now! [laughs] I went to Bilbao, and the gift shop had this Puppy needlepoint kit. I felt I had to have it for my couch at home. I do like crafts and things.
MARY: How did you get those student sweaters into production?
MARC: I was working at Charivari at the time.
MARY: Which one?
MARC: I worked at two of them. I started out working at the one on 72nd and Columbus, because I lived down the block at 72nd and Central Park West.
MARY: I used to do a lot of window-shopping there. It was so chic.
MARC: Barbara Weiser, who was one of the buyers, had seen the sweaters at my school show. She decided she wanted to produce a limited edition for the stores. And they were photographed all over. It was at a time when Gaultier had a very big, tapestry-looking sweater. Bill Cunningham picked up on it for "On the Street," which he still does for the Sunday Times. He did a story that depicted four different people in the sweaters, as seen on the street. That was sort of the beginning of my career.
MARY: You began with a bang.
MARC: And I met my partner, Robert Duffy — who I'm still with — at this same Parsons fashion show. He was working for a Seventh Avenue company that wanted to start a "contemporary" line of clothing. Robert convinced them to hire me straight out of school. In that first collection I continued to do the chunky, hand-knit sweaters, but with a smiley face.
MARY: Which was later a favorite drug reference among ravers.
MARC: Right. But this was before house music and trip hop and all that, so there was no druggie connotation. I didn't mean it that way. I always like very banal things, like stripes and spots. I like clich?s very much.
MARY: And yet, I think I've read that you were a quite youthful devotee of Studio 54.
MARC: Oh yeah.
MARY: You must have been like ...
MARC: I was 15. It was so important that I go before I turned 16. People would say, "Oh, they'll never let you in. You're not even 16 yet." But that set up some kind of challenge, like, "I'll be the youngest person to get in." Which wasn't true — I think Drew Barrymore was probably the youngest person! [laughs]
MARY: Were you intimidated?
MARC: It wasn't that big a deal. I was going to rock-and-roll clubs like Hurrah at the same age. I grew up at quite an accelerated pace. I remember being teased by my draping teacher at Parsons. She said, "You are so jaded." I said, "I'm not jaded. I've just been a New Yorker for the past 16 years."
MARY: Sonic Youth shot a video in one of your showrooms. Did you see them early on?
MARC: No. I wish I had, especially now, knowing them the way I do. I was aware of them early on, but I wasn't going to venues and hearing bands at the time. At that point, my career was in a different place, and "fashion-religious" became my whole life. All my spare time was spent with the models that I worked with, and the magazine editors who were my friends. We stayed in our own little incestuous world, and rarely ventured into any kind of art or music scene.
MARY: Let's revisit a collection I loved, which was the Spring '93 Grunge Collection for Perry Ellis.
MARC: Oh, it's my favorite.
MARY: Oh, good.
MARC: That was a time when I did love music, I couldn't get enough of what was going on. Maybe it was Nirvana that brought me back. I guess it was a comfort because something that sounded so right — and non-commercial — had become so influential, so immediately. I remember being in Berlin the year the wall came down, and I was in some bar, and "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was on the radio. At that moment I felt an energy I'd only felt before at clubs like Hurrahs, or when I was listening to garage bands.
MARY: Did that free you to try something radical?
MARC: I liked the idea of making some visual noise through clothing. I found a two-dollar flannel shirt on St. Mark's Place and I sent it off to Italy and had it made into a $300-a-yard plaid silk. It was like the Elsa Perretti crystal tumbler at Tiffany that was inspired by a paper Dixie Cup. I love to take things that are everyday and comforting and make them into the most luxurious things in the world.
MARY: And you made the fancy Birkenstocks.
MARC: Yes. We asked Birkenstock to make satin Birks. We asked Converse to make duchesse satin sneakers. If I were wearing a tuxedo I'd want to wear it with satin Converse sneakers. I'd want my tuxedo to be shrunken and ill-fitting, so I'd look like one of the John Holmstrom cartoons from Punk magazine. It's the idea of imperfection, of being awkward.
MARY: Did you know it would cause such a stir?
MARC: I didn't set out to be some hellion. But everybody labeled it grunge. There were a lot of things that stimulated me to do it, and music was one of them. But there was also this new kind of beauty that was starting to be recognized. Girls like Kate Moss. There was this idea of the shoe-gazer, this person who couldn't look up, who's sort of insecure. And I've always felt like that, that I never fit in. But that's sort of empowering too.
MARY: So is that feeling something you strive for in what you do now?
MARC: I still think that I'm doing grunge collections, for lack of a better way to say it. But it's not perceived that way anymore. You don't have the same reaction to a girl walking around the street today in a nightgown and a vintage coat and sneakers, that you did six years ago.
MARY: It doesn't resonate ...
MARC: You don't do a double-take any more. Our eyes have become accustomed to it. I mean, a dowdy skirt is accepted as just a chic length now.
MARY: You've characterized yourself as a low-tech guy. Do you do eBay?
MARC: I wouldn't know how to find eBay on the computer if my life depended on it.
MARY: Do you have a Palm Pilot?
MARC: I do. I said, "Okay, it's the year 2000, I'm getting a computer and a Palm Pilot." I know how to check my e-mail, and I've listed some phone numbers on it. Half the time the battery has gone out so I can't use it.
MARY: It's supposed to make your life easier, but ?
MARC: I have to tell you a story. I was sending an e-mail to Kim Gordon one night. Well, 53 minutes into this very, very short e-mail — because it took me that long to hunt and peck all the letters out — it was gone. So I just picked up the phone and called her, and I don't think I've sent an e-mail since.
MARY: You're surrounded by women like Sofia Coppola and Kim Gordon, who have such great style. Do they serve as muses in any way?
MARC: I think of many people and no one as a muse. I love the way Sofia looks always, and I love the way Kim looks always. Fashion may be part of their world, but it's not their whole life. It's not everything. Sofia is so active, and she made The Virgin Suicides, which I thought was great ... all these things are inspiring to me, not in terms of creating a particular dress, but just in terms of knowing that there is this type of woman out there.
MARY: Who's your perfect customer?
MARC: I'd like to believe that the women who wear my clothes are not dressing for other people, that they're wearing what they like and what suits them. It's not a status thing.
MARY: Is there anyone who you'd like to dress?
MARC: I don't think, "Gee, I'd like to dress this person." There was a picture in Us magazine, or maybe Glamour ... it was a jersey dress, and Courtney Love was wearing it. I have this thing about Courtney Love, this funny worship. But anyway ...
MARY: Is she a friend?
MARC: I met her a couple of times. And I find her just scintillating, to be honest. [laughs] I can't describe it any other way. I don't even know where to begin or end, how I feel about Courtney Love. I think she's just this larger-than-life thing. Anyway, she wore one of my dresses, which I'd never have expected her to. It was from this last spring collection, which I think had more sex appeal to it. Then there was a similar dress from the same collection that Sofia was photographed in recently. It's quite nice to see that I didn't have to change who I was to reach two very different types of people.
MARY: Can you give us a sneak preview of what you're thinking about for the next collection? You're doing fall, right?
MARC: We're developing things, but I don't know what we'll go with for the show, so I don't like to talk about it. Sometimes there are two very opposite directions, and we go with the stronger one at the end. It's an impulse thing, like, "Oh, I love both so much, but it's got to be one or the other because the two don't work together." And then whatever that last-minute impulse is, that's the thing of the season.
MARY: How did the collaboration with Stephen Sprouse on the grafitti-monogrammed Louis Vuitton products come about?
MARC: Well, I was looking for an apartment in Paris ages ago. This was right at the time when I got the job at Louis Vuitton. One of the apartments I looked at was occupied by Charlotte Gainsbourg. In the corner of her bedroom there was a Vuitton trunk, painted black. And I thought, some day I'm just going to cover the LV monogram in paint.
MARY: It was such a great play on "logo-madness."
MARC: Well, later, with the whole logo thing going on, I thought, What can we do to say Louis Vuitton in an even bolder way that seems even more contemporary? How are we going to create this sort of anti-snobbism snobbism? I would never presume to do graffiti inspired by Stephen Sprouse's graffiti. Unless Stephen were going to do it, I wouldn't be interested. So I contacted him. We had many, many conversations, and I invited him to collaborate on the prints and accessories for the collection.
MARY: He's an elusive guy. I tried to borrow his clothes when we did a tribute to Axl Rose at Sassy. Is he just sort of finished designing?
MARC: Stephen can do anything! I was always intimidated by Stephen, because he was so quiet and he seemed very to-himself. But one thing plays off another. If you're intimidated by someone, you don't approach them, but then if you don't approach them, you'll never get the chance to know them. He's probably one of the warmest, most gentle and sensitive and wonderful and intelligent and funny people that I've ever met. But it wasn't easy to get to know him.
MARY: How did the higher-ups at Vuitton react when they first saw the grafitti?
MARC: They loved it. They've been very trusting with me. You know what? I don't even want to say "they." Mr. Arnaud chose me to do this, really, and I think he has a genuine interest in doing something contemporary. I think he loves what John Galliano has done for Dior. I don't think he finds it, in any way, shape, or form, disrespectful. He likes the idea of progress — of youth and energy.
MARY: Do you get recognized on the street nowadays?
MARC: Sometimes. I always find it kind of embarrassing, kind of funny, and kind of exciting. In New York I'm recognized a lot, although nobody says anything. You know, they stare at you just a second too long. But in Paris it's not as commonplace. I remember walking the dog one day, I saw a car full of teenage girls, and one of them rolled down the window and yelled, "Marc Jacobs!" in a French accent. It just seemed too weird to me. I don't know, maybe they were smoking a joint in the car downstairs from their parents' apartment. I had to go that far to put together a scenario of how they could have possibly recognized me.