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March 24, 2010 6:45 PM

Fashion, Men's

Marc Jacobs on Fashion and Francophilia

On Monday night, Marc Jacobs sat down with Patricia Mears, the deputy director for The Museum at FIT, for a Q&A session at the French Institute Alliance Français. Here, excerpts from that session. On his early interest in fashion:...

On Monday night, Marc Jacobs sat down with Patricia Mears, the deputy director for The Museum at FIT, for a Q&A session at the French Institute Alliance Français. Here, excerpts from that session.

On his early interest in fashion:
I [always] had a love for fashion. I recognized it when my grandmother took me shopping for back-to-school clothes. I mean, I didn't know I wanted to be a fashion designer at that point, but I knew I was interested in clothing. I loved the idea of getting dressed and putting together clothes at a very early age. And then, I guess maybe when I was 12 or 13, I decided I wanted to be a fashion designer. I just really loved fashion. I had no real dreams of anything else. I think once I wanted to be a veterinarian [because] my cat was sick. I was, like, eight and that was a passing moment.

On the Charivari years:
I lived on 72nd and Central Park West and they opened a Charivari on 72nd and Columbus. I went in there and begged them [to give me a job]. I got them to give me a job as a stock boy. For my final project at [Parsons the New School for Design], I had done these oversize sweaters that were patterned [after the work of] different Pop artists. [Charivari executive vice president] Barbara Weiser was at the show. Barbara said, "I'd love to produce these sweaters." She took me to Japan and she found a manufacturer. We made a label called Marc and Barbara and we produced 350 of [those] sweaters. She sold them to stores that she had a relationship with -- Knit Wit in Philadelphia, Ultimo [in Chicago] -- and obviously she carried them in the Charivari store. That was my first commercial venture.

On Perry Ellis and the early years:
I started working there [as head of the women's division of Perry Ellis] and Robert came with me to run the business. I hired Tracy Reese to do Perry Ellis Portfolio -- [she] was my best friend from Parsons -- and I hired Tom Ford to do Perry Ellis America. And then we were fired from Perry Ellis. I don't know [why]. I think there were a lot of reasons. People love to attribute it to the fact that the grunge collection [spring 1993] was so controversial. Perry Ellis was basically about the licensees, [but] the collection line was owned by Perry Ellis. This is all very technical stuff, but a design collection very, very often isn't the real moneymaker. It's really the icing on the cake, something that keeps the image of the company.

[Getting fired] was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. [Robert and I] decided to take our severance package from Perry Ellis and rent a store. We started our own company, rented a space on 113 Spring Street, a very small little studio with one patternmaker and two sewers who are still with us today. So many wonderful people in the fashion industry were there to support us -- that was a great help for me. Gianni Versace and Donatella Versace came to our first show.

On the move into the LVMH fold in 1997:
[LVMH chairman and chief executive officer] Mr. Arnault came to see us in the showroom. He didn't know what he wanted me for, but he knew he wanted me to be somehow involved in LVMH. So he flew Robert and me back and forth [from New York] to Paris to meet with him, the head of Dior, the head of Givenchy, the head of Loewe. Finally he proposed this project. He said, "I'd like you to work on this project over the summer. What would you make of Louis Vuitton outside of bags? What would you do with Vuitton?"

On Ralph Lauren:
My greatest hero in fashion will always be Saint Laurent, [but] I do think Ralph Lauren is the greatest American designer. I don't really want to go into why, I just think that [he] creates his world and a vision -- and that vision is so complete. That voice is so clear. Everything within that world is that very particular singular vision. On that level, Ralph Lauren really is the ultimate American designer. I don't think we've ever had this master plan or master vision in the way Ralph Lauren has. We are very impulsive. We do what we like and the people in our company are the same. Ralph has created a world that people aspire to and I don't think that's what we're about at all. We create things, whether they're T-shirts or little key chains, [and they're] us because we've done [them], but it's not an aspirational sort of thing.

On his design process:
It's very personal. It isn't like this decision is made and we go about executing it. There are many decisions made daily and they get twisted and turned and something can get thrown away and something can evolve or transform or whatever. There really is no plan; it's not linear at all. It's always interesting to me how it all comes together in the end. You know, I really don't know how it happens. I mean, there are certain things that I do continuously love and that I appreciate -- I love things that are banal, I love clichés, I like things that are awkward -- but what that means at the end of the season, I don't know.

On Paris:
I'm a Francophile. I love Paris. I went to Paris at 17 years old with [the program at] Parsons in Paris. I think I went to about three classes and then I just did Paris on my own. I cried insanely when I had to leave. I cried because I thought I should have been born in Paris, that there was a mistake and they took the wrong baby home.

On his ads with Juergen Teller:
My relationship with Juergen came about when I first started back at that 113 Spring Street address. I was working with a stylist who was then his girlfriend, Venetia Scott. My friend Joe McKenna started a magazine called Joe's and he wanted an ad. We didn't have the money to do ads, we had never done an ad, but we wanted to support his magazine. My friend Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth was on the stage, wearing a dress that I designed, so I asked [Juergen] to do me a favor and take a picture of Kim on the stage in this dress. We gave that to Joe as an ad. That became the precedent on how we would work.

On sex appeal:
I just don't find inanimate objects sexy. I don't find clothes sexy at all. I find people sexy. I find personalities fascinating and sexy and appealing and charming. A sexy girl wrapped in a sheet is a sexy girl and an unsexy girl in a low-cut dress is still an unsexy girl.

On Marc Jacobs versus Louis Vuitton:
I feel what we do [at Marc Jacobs] is a little bit more introverted. It's a little bit more poetic and romantic and gentler. At Vuitton, I have to define what Vuitton is as a bag, as a woman. And people carry Vuitton luggage and when I looked at that, I thought, it's not because [the luggage] is the most practical or lightest weight -- it's the most identifiable. So it's about somebody wanting to be recognized. In Paris, I get to be the extrovert. It's about this woman [who's] got the latest bag, she's busting out of the corset. She wants to be seen and noticed. She's more superficial -- and I don't mean that in a negative way. I think that's glorious that somebody wants to show off like that. But that's not what our clothes are about at Marc Jacobs.

On being called an artist:
I have a pretty pat answer to that. I would say, "You could call me an artist," but I'll never do it. I could never call myself an artist. I think that would be pretentious. But if any of you want to call me an artist...

On his kilt-wearing obsession and grooming habits:
I got into this kind of uniform of sorts two years ago. It was one summer [when] I was having one of those days where I didn't think I was going to have a show and did not have an idea. I asked [an assistant] to go to Barneys. I said, "Oh, just buy me a funny pair of pants, something that will put me in a good mood while I'm here in the studio." He came back with this Comme des Garçons kilt. I loved it so much. I think I've worn jeans three times in the past two years. I don't know how this happened. I really love wearing skirts, I really do. And then once in a while, I like to wear a suit. I love that whole moment of taking care of yourself, showering and putting on lotions. I just think it's a glorious, beautiful process. I used to be the type of person [who] would be in and out of the bathroom in five minutes and I didn't care what I looked like. Now I spend easily two hours [in the bathroom].
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