The lights dimmed last night inside Florence Gould Hall at The French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF), and a reverential silence fell. Marc Jacobs took the stage. As part of this season’s “Fashion Talks” series, FIAF selected three iconic male designers to share industry thoughts and creative inspirations – and Marc Jacobs was the night’s featured guest.
Looking sharp in jeans (no kilt!), a crisp white buttondown and a charcoal-color blazer, Marc delighted the crowd with stories of falling in love with fashion while back-to-school shopping with grandma, getting fired from Perry Ellis and venturing out on his own, balancing two very different brands at Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton, and finding his dream home in Paris – his most beloved city.
Patricia Mears – fashion expert, author and Deputy Director for the Museum at FIT – interviewed Marc, calling him “the most influential American fashion creator in the world today.” How, she asked, did it all start? Marc said fashion was all he ever wanted to do for as long as he can recall. He loved going back-to-school shopping with his grandmother and was inspired by the streets of New York. For a fleeting moment when his cat was sick, he considered becoming a veterinarian – but really, he was only ever interested in clothes.
Not long after his critically-lauded – yet controversial – “Grunge Collection” for Perry Ellis in 1992, Marc and his longtime business partner Robert Duffy were axed from the brand. “They were more focused on the licensing…and I don’t think they wanted to move forward with a women’s line on that scale. Looking back, it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said. Marc and Robert holed up in a loft on Spring Street with one pattern-maker and two sewers – all of whom are still with the company today.
Family is everything at Marc Jacobs. While the designer marvels at the accomplishments of Ralph Lauren – for creating a vision so complete, a voice so clear, a world so aspirational – his own company is more impulsive and gutsy. There’s an openness to try new things – some that work, some that don’t – but he and his team are constantly sharing influences and ideas – building on them, transforming them, sometimes discarding them. There’s no master plan – they trust one another and go with the flow. Of course, he said, he’s always petrified he has nothing left in him and no good ideas. But it’s a group process – they keep going to see what they get.
This concept of collaboration has been key at Louis Vuitton, too. Brought on board by Bernard Arnault in 1997 to be the Creative Director, Marc didn’t immediately feel embraced. He decided to approach the role as a collaborator instead of an authority. “I’m the ultimate Francophile,” he declared, and he was inspired by Paris-based designers like Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli who worked with artists such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and Jean Cocteau. He sought to bring modern artists to the glossy heritage of Louis Vuitton. Stephen Sprouse, Richard Prince and Takashi Murakami have all teamed with LV for special handbag collections.
When asked how he switches gears designing ready-to-wear for two distinctive brands, Marc believes the different energies between New York and Paris have a profound impact. “I’m still an American in Paris,” he joked, “and I create for Louis Vuitton with a sense of fantastical remove.” At Marc Jacobs in New York, it’s very personal and more about reality. “Would my friend wear this dress?” It has to fit into his world.
The duality has worked for him, and though New York will always be his hometown, Marc finally found the kind of place he’d always longed for. It’s a three-story garden apartment in Paris by the Champs de Mars. Formerly owned by Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Marc spent months and months meticulously overseeing the interior design and arranging the art collection he’s amassed in recent years. “It’s my favorite place in the world,” he smiled.
Indeed, in the words of Elle Magazine‘s Roberta Myers when she introduced him last night, Marc Jacobs’s major passion is art – studying it, collecting it, and without a doubt, creating it. Hats off to FIAF for another superb Q&A.
Watch highlights from FIAF’s Fashion Talks Interview with Marc Jacobs…