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WWD CEO Summit: Marc Jacobs

One of the most famous and influential designers in the world, Jacobs reflected on his career, to what he owes his success and why fashion matters.

WWD: You were raised by your grandmother. What was that like?
M.J.:
It was great. My father’s mother. I went to live with her and she taught me how to do embroidery and needlepoint, and she helped me knit my first sweaters for my Parsons show when I graduated. She was a well-dressed woman who really appreciated fashion. She was very encouraging. I knew that was what I wanted to do and she was the first person to take me to a butcher shop and say, “My grandson is going to be the next Calvin Klein.” And I’d blush and wish I wasn’t alive at that moment. But it made her happy.

WWD: Did you sketch at the time?
M.J.:
Oh yeah. I wanted all the fashion magazines and she would buy me all the American fashion magazines, all the European fashion magazines. I started to sketch and I went to the High School of Art and Design and majored in fashion and went to Parsons. She was very encouraging.

WWD: Your dad died when you were very young.
M.J.:
Very young.

WWD: Why didn’t you live with your mother?
M.J.:
Long story. Do you really want to hear it?
WWD: Not if you don’t want to tell. OK.

WWD:
What surprises you most about the person you’ve become?
M.J.:
I guess that I’m still excited. Even when I feel really stressed and I do go up and down. I’m very black and white. I know we’re working on a project now and I get very excited every time we have a meeting. We’re working with Sephora on a beauty line and it’s not that I don’t get excited about fashion shows, but I think, Is there really going to be something else that we’re going to do that I’m going to want to do and that I’m going to enjoy? And then something does come along and you’re like, “Wow. This is really great.” Or after doing some of these collaborations with Louis Vuitton…when we started doing Yayoi Kusama, whose work I always loved, in the beginning I thought, “It’s another one. Is this really going to work?” But then we got into it and we saw how happy she was with it and then we saw the reaction of the customers. Of course, Vuitton is thrilled with the numbers but I was thrilled with the type of people. Mr. Arnault was telling me that Marie-Josée Kravis showed up to a lunch and she was carrying one of the Yayoi bags and it made me feel very good. There is still pleasure in this. Even when I think that I’m jaded and I’m doing this again, I can still get excited.

WWD: What’s the timing for the beauty line?
M.J.:
I think it’s launching this year. We are in 2013. This fall.

WWD: Robert Duffy — We hear so often about how important it is to have the right partnership. What has made your partnership work?
M.J.:
First of all, Robert is the greatest person. We’ve never been lovers, we’ve had no love relationship but he’s the longest relationship I’ve ever had with anyone. And there are days when he wants to throw in the towel, and I’m like, “No, you can’t. We can do this. We’ll get through it.” And vice versa and he’ll be the encouraging one. He’s great to all the people in the company. We both drive each other crazy but we both love each other to death and we both have such respect and such trust. Within our company, there’s a sort of family feeling. Robert just threw a huge New Year’s Eve party at his house in Savannah and a lot of people flew in for it. I just thought it was a wonderful thing. That’s how Robert is. Anyone who has come to work for us can start out as a receptionist and end up in the art department or styling or doing windows. He promotes from within and he believes in people who a lot of people in other companies wouldn’t give that chance to.

WWD: If you were advising a designer looking for a partner, is there a checklist? A gut check?
M.J.:
I don’t know. Luckily he found me and it’s lasted through good and bad and ups and downs. It’s work, but Giancarlo [Giammetti] and Valentino found each other. Yves [Saint Laurent] and [Pierre] Bergé found each other for better or worse. I guess Calvin [Klein] and Barry Schwartz. There have been a lot of successful fashion couples.

WWD: What’s your relationship with Mr. Arnault?
M.J.:
I tell this story all the time: I always feel like Babe, the pig. Mr. Arnault is the farmer and will say, “That’ll do, pig.” After the most illustrious show, the grand production with the train, he was like, “Oh, magnificent! It’s incredible!” So he’s been a lot more forthcoming, but there was a good 10 or 15 years where it was, “That’ll do, pig.” I like to please people and I can’t please everyone, but he is my boss. He is the one who gave me the opportunity and he gave Robert the opportunity, so if I have to get one “That’ll do,” he’s the one I want it from.

 

RELATED STORY: Louis Vuitton RTW Spring 2013 >>



WWD: You said early on, you were told, “No, no, no” [at Vuitton when he joined]. Not necessarily by Mr. Arnault but by people who worked for Mr. Arnault. So you had to break the rules. Now it seems there are trains, extravaganzas in Shanghai, escalators and elevators. Is “no, no, no” no longer in the language?
M.J.:
For the time being. But who knows? There may come some crazy trip I want to go on and they say no. I don’t know.

WWD: Why does fashion matter?
M.J.:
Let’s see. It’s part of the art of living. Why does makeup matter? Why does fragrance matter? Why does fashion matter? Why does it matter to have beautiful furniture and nice interiors and books to read and good wine to drink and good food to eat? These are all luxuries and it’s human nature to want them, to desire them, to enjoy them, enjoy looking at them, wearing them. I think it’s just human nature. We want things to please us and make us feel good and maybe attract other people to us or just make us feel good about ourselves.

There were then questions from the floor, some of which are below:

QUESTION: Are there shows you look back at you wish you could change?
M.J.:
Well, there are shows that I look back at I wish I hadn’t done and, no, I wouldn’t want to redo those. It’s better just to move forward. Yeah, I think there are things that went wrong that I feel like I could do again that would make sense now. But, no, I don’t want to go back and redo.

QUESTION: Is there a show you don’t like?
M.J.:
There are a lot of them. For a long time I had this feeling that I was really excited about the show until I watched the video and was like, that dress is on backward and one of the skirts was on front to back. And I thought this was going to be the show where nothing went wrong and you just have to move on. The last few I’ve been very happy with.

QUESTION: What does it feel like to be the man you are today coming from knitting those sweaters in your grandmother’s house?
M.J.:
It’s exciting. I’m happy to be here. I love my life. I can’t believe I work in New York and Paris. That I work for Louis Vuitton. That I work for Marc Jacobs. It seems really weird every time I say my full name — like, that’s me, and every time I hear the receptionist say my name, it’s still weird. Actually, before every show I say to Robert, “I can’t believe that we’re here.” After being at beer festivals in Milwaukee on the “Sally Jessy Raphael Show.” Somebody wrote that he’s had more comebacks than Jamie Lee Curtis in “Friday the 13th” [Curtis actually appeared in “Halloween”]. We’ve been in and out of business, so many ups and downs, it’s remarkable.

QUESTION: Was there a single hardest moment?
M.J.:
I don’t know. This has been kind of a hard year. The last couple of months have been hard. Some personal things, although the work this year has been great. But it’s been a hard year emotionally. So I will escape into fashion land and forget about all that.

QUESTION: If you could design something other than apparel, a car or a building or something else, what would it be?
M.J.:
No, no. Fashion. I’m not a frustrated architect, I don’t want to do costumes for a movie, I don’t want to do furniture or decorate houses, that’s for sure. It’s really actually the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do.

QUESTION: Do you have a sense of what makes you so relatable, so easy and inspiring to work with? A lot of European designers admire you. You’re the kind of person who is apart from anything else.
M.J.:
I don’t know. Maybe it’s that, you know, there’s nothing you can’t ask me. I will say anything. I get blasted by people for changing direction this season and that season. Some people don’t like that. I get plenty of criticism but I do think the passion and love for something different and desire to please an audience and make a new collection comes from who I am. But it’s not only myself but the people around me who are very straightforward, honest people. If there is respect and admiration, the work is the reflection of the people it comes from.

Martha Stewart then said she had tweeted her followers and they asked two questions:

QUESTION: Who or what is your greatest inspiration and if you cook?
M.J.:
I love red. I don’t cook, although I eat very well. Who inspired me — well, all the people I work with inspire me and my friends inspire me. I’m lucky to have friends in film and music and art who constantly inspire me.

QUESTION: Who’s your favorite ex-male porn star?
M.J.:
Wow. My favorite ex-male porn star is a guy named Eddie?

 

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