Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Marc Jacobs Talks Kilts, Anxiety, and Getting Fired From Perry Ellis at FIAF Forum

Marc Jacobs is arguably the hardest working designer in fashion, overseeing a multi-billion (yes, billion) dollar namesake brand internationally, while also holding post as creative director of Louis Vuitton, relocating to Paris six months a year. So when we heard that the French Institute Alliance Francaise was arranging an interview between Jacobs and the Museum at FIT’s Deputy Director Patricia Mears at Florence Gould Hall Monday night, you know we jumped.

Jacobs shared his story of success and triumph with the few hundred eager spectators in the room - also getting personal with the crowd about what he finds sexy, the things he talks to his shrink about, and why he's so fascinated with kilts.

On the moment he knew he wanted to be a fashion designer: I recognized my love for fashion when my grandmother took me shopping for back-to-school clothes at a very early age. I was so keen on what t-shirts I had to have and what pants I had to have and tying them together. Around 12 or 13, I decided that I wanted to be a designer. I started looking at fashion magazines and becoming fascinated by people on the streets of New York. I had no real dreams of being anything else. I think once I wanted to be a veterinarian when my cat was sick, at age 8. It was a passing moment.

On his first commercial success: My final project [in college at Parsons] were these three over-sized sweaters with patterns inspired by different pop artists. Barbara Weister and I created this label Marc and Barbara, and we produced 350 of these hand-knit sweaters, and she sold them to fine specialty stores that she had a relationship with. It was the first thing I had done that was mass-produced. At that time, Bill Cunningham from the New York Times was covering trends on the street and I remember that season there were several pictures of women wearing my hand-knit sweater and Jean Paul Gaultier's sweater with floral embroidery. Half the pictures were of my sweater and half the pictures were of his. That was the beginning of my commercial career. 

On getting fired from Perry Ellis: There were a lot of reasons. I was hired as the head of the women's division for Perry Ellis America... People love to attribute that this grunge collection [we made in 1992] was so controversial and outrageous, but... very often a designer collection isn't really the money-maker. It's more what keeps the image of the company. So, we did this grunge collection and somewhere just after, they decided they didn't want to continue... In the moment I didn't look at it as a great opportunity, but it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. [My business partner] Robert Duffy and I decided, some drunken night, that we would take our severance package from Perry Ellis and rent a very small studio on 113 Spring Street, hire one pattern-maker and two sewers. And they're still with us today.

On anxiety during obstacles: Robert and I have faced so many challenges. We've certainly been in the position where one or the other wanted to throw in the towel. Usually it's one of us at a time, so one convinces the other to keep going... I am like a broken record. Every single season I say - I don't know what we're going to do this time. There are no ideas left. This is going to be a disaster. My shrink hears it every week. Then I realize... it's a process. It's a journey. We can't get to Z without going from A to - whatever comes before Z.

On his favorite designer: My answer to that question changes quite a bit. I do think Ralph Lauren is the greatest American designer. The world that Ralph has created is just flawless. My greatest hero in fashion will probably always be Yves Saint Laurent... a very different role but an artistic expression that's so dark and decadent. The glamour of that is more appealing to me on a fashion level.

On his work style: I react in a very personal way to music, what I've seen that day, what I don't like... There's no plan. We're very impulsive. I love cliches. I like things that are awkward. But what that means within a given season, I don't know. It's really quite bizarre, the whole thing.

On living in Paris half the year to work for Louis Vuitton: I love Paris so much. Going to Paris for the first time is like losing your virginity. Even if it's bad... it only happens once. I cried insanely when I had to leave because I felt that I should have been born in Paris and it was a mistake. 

On what constitutes 'sexy': I don't find clothes sexy at all. I just don't find inanimate objects sexy. I find people sexy and I find personalities sexy... A sexy girl wrapped in a sheet is a sexy girl, and an un-sexy girl in a low-cut dress is still an un-sexy girl.

On using celebrities in ads: It doesn't interest me very much, that whole world of dressing celebrities. My friend Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth was onstage in my dress [and I said] can we take a picture of that and use it as an ad? We do our job and if someone wants it, they come to us.

On his fascination with kilts: I was having one of those days one summer where I didn't think we were going to have a show, and [there was not one] idea left in the world, and I asked my assistant Casey to go to Barney's and buy me a funny pair of pants. 'Something that will put me in a good mood.' And he came back with this kilt. And I loved it so much that... I think I've worn jeans three times in the past two years. I don't know how this happened but I really love wearing skirts.

On getting ready: I love that whole moment of taking care of yourself. Of showering and putting on lotions and then choosing an outfit. It's such a glorious, beautiful process... A few years ago I used to be the type of person that would be ready in five minutes and I didn't care what I looked like. Now it takes me two hours. No one understands what I'm doing in two hours and then I emerge wearing the same thing I've worn every day.

On the art world: I love art, literature, music, good wine, good food... I want to enjoy the best life has to offer. I was very intimated by the art world for so long... I felt I didn't understand, and a few years ago, something happened and I just kind of got over this intimidation. I realized, there's no such thing as right or wrong. Understanding is an individual thing. There was what I liked and what I didn't like. But I could never call myself an artist. That would be pretentious. But if you want to call me an artist...

On giving advice to an aspiring entrepreneur: I prefer never to give advice. If advice were a good thing it would be sold instead of given. I [like to] share my experiences and hope there's something there for someone.

On the future: I just hope and pray that I always have this passion, and no matter how tough things get or whatever challenges life presents... If I still have this passion and the people around me have this passion, I can continue doing what I'm doing.

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