Marc Jacobs

 “The most Parisian of American designers”

Marc Jacobs © Bob Bishop

With his first Paris boutique opening this fall, Marc Jacobs will be the toast of this October’s “Fashion Week.” Paris’ Bon Marché department store tributes this key American fashion designer, as the guest of honor for its current thematic expo dedicated to New York. A sampling of 21 exclusive garments from his eponymous collection is presented within a spectacular “room,” with anthracite walls, barren branches and spotlights.

Each of the garments on display can be purchased, along with a dozen or so pairs of shoes, skincare products and perfume. In the center, a giant screen flashing images of the designer overlooks a runway, itself featuring 18 video screens embedded in the podium. Each screen provides a glimpse at the designer’s most significant collections over the years. The ensemble is a testimonial to why Jacobs is embraced as “the most Parisian of the American designers.”

To students attending his alma mater, Parsons School of Design, Marc Jacobs is a superstar. So imagine how thrilled the school’s Paris campus was when this legendary alumnus came for a visit. For two hours, an enthralled audience listened to Jacobs reminisce about his early beginnings, and those who served as an initial source of inspiration, also expressing his views on fame and fashion in the new millennium.

“Working for Louis Vuitton is a dream come true,” Marc Jacobs told the crowd of students gathered to see him. The last time he had stepped inside of Parsons in Paris was during the summer of 1984, for a month-long fashion program. “I guess you could say, I was a bad example of how to do school,” he laughs. “I had to take out a student loan to come for the summer, but then I went to class maybe twice.

“The one thing I got out of it was that we went to see designers. I met Sonia Rykiel, and we went to Yves Saint Laurent.” “But when it came to going to the Louvre, I figured I could do that on my own,” he confessed. With a boyish grin he admits, “I was supposed to be here for four weeks, instead I stayed for 10 and ended up on someone’s boat in Saint-Tropez. I swore I’d never go back to the States. So, for me to get such a prestigious job at LVMH and spend time in Paris is, really, a dream come true.”

Today, Marc Jacobs heads his own small empire that bears his stamp with stores spread over four cities throughout the US and others in Europe and Asia, including China. If his name has become a household word throughout the planet, this is due largely to his role as creative director for Louis Vuitton, one of most famous and powerful fashion firms in the world. Jacobs is credited for translating this prestigious brand’s image (celebrated for its LV-logo luggage) into a trendy clothing and accessories label. In spite of all of the fame and fortune that comes with the territory, Marc remains down-to-earth, a trait he admired in designers who contributed to his entry into the world of style.

Though in his 42nd year, Marc Jacobs still looks like a college kid. Born and raised in New York, he became interested in fashion while in grade school, and secretly admits to having taken sewing lessons in the sixth grade. “I was especially interested in learning how to make a jumpsuit at a time when service overalls with badges everywhere were popular. I wanted to show how cool I was…. at the tender age of 11.” The flames of this passion were fanned, particularly by his grandmother who not only taught him to knit – but, whom he credits with being the biggest influence in his life.

While a student at New York’s High School for Art and Design, Jacobs took a job as a stock boy at Charivari, a hip New York boutique where he met the late designer, Perry Ellis. “He didn’t wear a suit like the other Seventh Avenue designers. He wore long hair, jeans and smoked pot. He just seemed really so much cooler than everyone else.” Little did Jacobs know, then… This landmark meeting would be the precursor to a long and illustrious career that would link the two men in more ways than one

Five years later, in his final year at Parsons, Marc had Ellis as a senior designer critic and won the top prize for his garments. “Instead of doing one garment for Perry Ellis, I did three. I really love to work. I really wanted to do fashion. For example, instead of stitching a seam once, I’d have to do it three times. I obsessed over getting the seams perfectly straight. I’m anal-retentive and obsessive, compulsive….” he laughs. “But the most important thing about my senior show was that there was someone in the audience named Robert Duffy. Duffy was working for a company that made evening wear. This company was looking to launch a line of contemporary sportswear. Duffy convinced them to go with an unknown designer. I was just 22.”

“The company decided to trust me,” explains Jacobs. “We did a line called ‘Sketchbook.'” After a few seasons, it decided to dissolve the business. But, on the heels of that closure, Jacobs was approached by another backer, prepared to launch a line bearing Marc Jacobs’ name. “There were lots of ups and downs. I went in and out of business several times. I was backed by Kashiyama for awhile, but finally landed a job at Perry Ellis after the namesake designer’s death.” How ironic that Jacobs would end up taking over the business of someone he had admired so much as a kid! “I did that for just over four years, and then I did this collection which upset everyone, though it was the collection I really loved.” It was called the “grunge” collection and it sent shock waves all up and down Seventh Avenue’s spine, cutting his career short in the process. Still, in the same year, Jacobs won the “Women’s Designer of the Year” award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

“After that experience, we decided to go into business for ourselves. Robert (Duffy) mortgaged his house, and I started doing consultant jobs. Between us we were able to do a small collection and move downtown to SoHo.” The little shows created quite a stir, with Jacobs’ supermodel friends – Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista on the catwalk. “After a couple of years, the business was still not big enough to support itself, nor small enough so that we could easily manage it. We were quite fortunate that someone from LVMH, who had seen photos of my things in Vogue approached us. They were looking for designers.” Consequently in 1997, at the tender age of 34, Jacobs was appointed creative director of Louis Vuitton.

Today Jacobs lives a dual life, dividing his time between New York and Paris, creating for his own label and the prestigious French LVMH brand. Check out his new Fall-Winter Collection at the Bon Marché, and see why Jacobs is the American designer most loved by Parisians.