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As a designer continually under the spotlight’s glare — be that of the runway or the gossip columns — Marc Jacobs has his own perspective on the mystique in fashion. WWD executive editor Bridget Foley talked with Jacobs right before the Paris collections about luxury, reality TV and the similarity of designers and sports stars.
WWD: Fashion once upon a time was cloaked in mystique. Now we have obsessive media coverage with an industry where designers and editors are on display 24 hours a day. How do you think we got there?
Marc Jacobs: When I saw this [question] all I could think of was something someone said to me once, an off-handed comment about 10 years ago: “Do you remember what it was like when it was a big deal to go to Paris and buy perfume and to bring your wife or your girlfriend? French perfume, because it wasn’t available anywhere except for in Paris.” Now, everything is available everywhere. I don’t know whether it’s worthwhile to moan about whether this is a good thing or a bad thing — it’s just the way it is. Life changes, and the Internet and the media have been a big part of the change that exists now. It’s just better to accept things for what they are and enjoy them.
The idea of luxury and exclusivity [now] comes in another form. I think luxury isn’t necessarily about exclusivity; it’s about the quality of the design and the quality of the make. And I think the idea of people being exposed, whether it’s stylists who have their reality shows or whatever, is just the way of the world. It’s every chef, every stylist, every hairdresser, everybody who’s doing plastic surgery. We’re in a period where people are entertained by what they consider to be the real lives of people in different professions, etc. And fashion has also reached this kind of proportion like football or sport, you know — a spectator sport. So just like you had Joe Namath back in the Seventies promoting stockings, or shaving cream or whatever, you now have designers promoting life jackets and whatever else they do.
WWD: Does it make fashion more egalitarian?
M.J.: I don’t know if it makes the actual product more egalitarian; it demystifies the experience. Any behind-the-scenes look is always telling of the fact that these are all real people doing real jobs and who work really hard. Again, I don’t know that that makes the end result more accessible. It just makes the ideas more accessible.
WWD: Does that mean more pressure on the end result and design process?
M.J.: It’s a Catch-22 situation. That may exist. There’s also this status — people know what it takes to make these things and they’re recognized for having them. People like to show off.
WWD: It sounds like you think it’s a good thing?
M.J.: I had lunch with Yves Carcelle [recently] talking about the Vuitton business. One thing that is so different about Vuitton than any of the other retailers, and any of the other luxury brands — Vuitton never goes on sale. That’s a huge risk — and I guess an expense — in these challenging economic times, but apparently it’s really worked to their advantage, because it’s maintained a certain exclusivity. So they’ve managed to maintain, through their way of retailing through their rules, a certain cachet.
WWD: This 24 hours a day life on camera…do you think that it just may not be a good thing for fashion, or that fashion can make it a good thing?
M.J.: Again, good or bad thing is a judgment — and I just think it’s unnecessary to do that. I read this article about the Standard Hotel and how people were lining up all around the Meatpacking District because they could watch people undressing, having sex [through the windows] and all this stuff. And you know what? The hotel is full; people want to stay there. So a voyeur doesn’t mean anything without an exhibitionist. It takes all kinds.
Rachel Zoe is a good friend of mine. The reality show wouldn’t have been renewed for another season if people didn’t want to know that Rachel Zoe was this crazy stylist. So it is what it is.
WWD: Is there any mystique left in fashion or anywhere else in the world?
M.J.: I don’t know. To me, as a working designer, I think fashion has great mystique. I mean, I have no idea what we’re going to be showing in two weeks [at Louis Vuitton]. So for me the mystery remains the same. What people’s reaction to it will be remains the same — I have no idea. So, there’s always the possibility of surprise. It just may not come in the same form as it did before.
You know, if we talked about the days of couture, and when Orbach bought rights to reproduce things from the couture — you can’t compare 2009 to 1950. Everybody has instant access to information, and everybody gets to see the shows, and Zara is not buying rights from Christian Dior. That’s the way of the world. And, again, to qualify or to judge whether it is good or bad is, in a spiritual sense, really futile.