Marc Jacobs is a hot mess. I think we are soulmates for the following reasons:
1. He is a New Yorker
I am not a New Yorker but have maintained a lifelong long distance relationship with the city since I was 3. The love affair was triggered by the most New York of all children’s shows, Sesame Street. I was particularly enamoured by the Sesame Street short of a girl taking her pet llama to the dentist. The show made it seem like kids could do whatever they wanted in the city (within safety boundaries) and everybody was friends with each other (apart from Oscar the Grouch). My fantasy of living in New York was kept alive through various sources throughout my childhood and teenage years: Home Alone 2, Beaches, Baby Sitters Club Super Special: New York! New York!, Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, The Nanny, Woody Allen films, Felicity, and Sex and the City.
Marc epitomises New York. He was raised by his grandmother on the Upper West Side and went to Parsons School of Design. From the age of 15, he partied at infamous 70s and 80s clubs such as Studio 54, Mudd, Hurrah and Area. He came of age in the gritty New York of Downtown 81 and Smithereens. When the Lower East Side looked like it was hit by a bomb. When Jim Jarmusch sacrificed food for Super 8. When Times Square wasn’t a family restaurant destination for tourists but a place where you would go to see tits in the flesh and blood on screen. Yes, I highly romanticise this era. Would I go back in time to live there? Probably not. I couldn’t put up with the lack of hygiene and absence of Wholefoods.
The man practically owns Bleecker St.
A sign in front of the Marc Jacobs store on Bleecker St circa October 2008. Yeah, this was the only photo I took on Bleecker St.
2. He has a wacky sense of humour and irony
If I could only go to one party a year it would be Marc’s Halloween party just so I could see his costume (or, one better, be a part of his costume). His Camel Toe moment from 2007 was my favourite.
This is the runner up: dressing as the Louis Vuitton customer.
I’d like to believe that Marc realises absurdity of logomania and the application of his brand name across everything from Silly Bandz to condoms is done with complete irony, though I can’t figure out if he doing this to take advantage of people stupid enough to buy anything with his name on it or if he genuinely takes pride in forming a global MJ cult. I look forward to the Marc Jacobs pregnancy test. If the Marc Jacobs logo appears on the stick after you pee on it, it means that you are either going to be preganant with a future design prodigy or body builder. If the Louis Vuitton logo appears, you’re going to have to find a way to make a whack of money to bring up this child.
Jacobs is the only man who can wear a Spongebob tattoo without looking like an overgrown late 90s raver.
Another personal favourite amongst his collection of over 30 tattoos is the one on his upper left arm of Elizabeth Taylor from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf…wearing 3D glasses.
And when a celebrity gives you free publicity by shoplifting your clothes and wears them to court, what do you do but put her in an ad.
3. He has a varied circle of friends
Marc is a loyal friend and isn’t one to discriminate. He seems like the type of guy who flitted between tables at the school cafeteria. The one who helped the cheerleaders pick their homecoming outfits and told them they weren’t fat. The one who stayed up all night making costumes and sets with the drama kids for the school play. The one who smoked joints behind the shed with the skaters. He knows how to play the game and may enjoy it at times, yet doesn’t quite feel like he totally fits in any group. He mostly feels comfortable with the quiet, bookish loner girl who deconstructs instruments to make experimental music.
The queens of the cool gaze, Sofia Coppola and Kim Gordon, are permanent front row fixtures at his runway shows. As is fellow Parsons alumnus Anna Sui. I wonder what they make of his pop diva friends Little Kim, Victoria Beckham and Lady Gaga.
Here is a video of Marc Jacobs and Anna Sui reminicing about the good old days of the 80s New York.
This looks like the most comfortable spot in the whole entire world. If I was in this photo I would never want to leave. Although, given Marc’s addictive personality, he would probably hop out of bed after 5 minutes to get an alcohol/drug/exercise/art purchase/tattoo hit.
4. Yet he isn’t afraid to talk about his insecurities, depression and loneliness
My best friends are neurotic. They realise their imperfections and aren’t afraid to talk about them. The conversations I enjoy the most are like mutually beneficial therapy sessions – a Freud and Jung mental ping pong match in which we can dig 20 levels deep into analysing why we are both fucked. We’re there for each other when our emotions go from estatic to suicidal in the space of a day. I don’t trust people who put up a happy appearance all the time. Nice people never have anything interesting to say.
Jacobs is not afraid to blurt it all out in interviews. We might know a bit too much about his psyche but for me, it plays a huge part in bringing his collections to life and it definitely has an effect on the unpredictability of each season. Diane Von Furstenberg will always be reliable for pretty office-to-after work dresses. Gucci will always be reliable for DTF clothes. On the other hand, Jacobs can go from being restrained and muted one season and hyper-coloured and oranately detailed the next. His signature ability to do a complete 180 from one collection to another is clearly the result of a man who can just as easily flip to either side of the emotional scale. The unpredictability is what makes me eagerly anticipate each collection more than any other designer, especially since I am the type of person who can never stick to one look. Last week I was moody post punk factory worker but this week I’m rocking a “if Courtney Love became a kindergarten teacher” look. I love that his cultural influences for each collection are just as extreme as his moods, as they have ranged from fashion writer Lynne Yaeger to Jody Foster in Taxi Driver.
Kim Gordon aptly described Jacobs’ relationship between creative output and emotions in this New York Magazine interview:
“It’s very hard to really be authentic or make deep creative products if your foremost thing is being really cool. You have to have a full range of emotion, and Marc has that.”
Before he underwent a makeover, Jacobs often talked about wanting to be part “cool kids”. In the same interview he says:
“I’ve never been cool, but I’ve felt cool. I’ve been in the cool place, but I wasn’t really cool—I was trying to pass for hip or cool.”
Before his makeover in 2007 he never felt good about his looks or even gave them much attention. He used to compare himself to the always polished Tom Ford, whose obviously sexy clothes were the antithesis to his dorkier aesthetic. Ford would never have dressed as a pig for Halloween (he seems so humourless that he probably thinks dressing up in costume is beneath him).
Jacobs claims to have more confidence since his physical transformation but at heart is still “terribly insecure”. No amount of chest presses at the gym will remove the overly analytical nature of his brain.
Compare the PR, celebrity factory trained Jacobs of today to the shy guy in 1987:
5. He is close with Sonic Youth
I have mentioned Kim Gordon twice in this article now. She is the woman I would like to be: creative, intelligent, stylish, cool (or should I say “kool”) and level-headed (with a fantastic body for someone over 50). Sonic Youth is one of my favourite bands. Though their music will never play on commercial radio they blow my mind when infiltrate the mainstream, such as appearing on Gossip Girl and The Gilmore Girls. Their fascination with both avant garde and pop culture is what they have in common with Jacobs.
Their collaboration goes back to 1993 when Jacobs was designing at Perry Ellis. His career defining grunge collection was featured in Sonic Youth’s Sugar Kane video, which starred a young Chloe Sevigny in her first ever film appearance. Read about it more in this Kim Gordon interview by Richard Kern.
Gordon was the first celebrity to appear in his signature Juergen Teller ads in 1998. When she rocks his dresses on stage and does her go-go dance she looks like she’s in her 20s.
From Marc Jacobs Advertising 1998-2009 by Juergen Teller published by Steidl.
This is her other Marc Jacobs ad, featuring husband at the time Thurston Moore their daughter Coco (the blonde one - not sure who the brunette is). This ad makes me sad because of their recent divorce after nearly 30 years of marriage. If she and Thurston can’t stay together than no one can. It pretty much also marked the end of Sonic Youth.
Sonic Youth performed at his Fall 2008 runway show. They hardly ever play “Kool Thing” at gigs (in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen them play it live out of the four times I’ve seen them) but it was quite apt to do so at a fashion show. Jacobs’ goodie bags were printed with the Goo album cover. Selma Blair appeared as daft as her character in Cruel Intentions when she said that she didn’t know who they were.
The album cover for their 2004 album Sonic Nurse was designed by Richard Prince, whose nurses also provided an influence for Marc Jacobs in his Spring 2008 Louis Vuitton collection.
6. He is low brow and high brow
The abovementioned Louis Vuitton collection was also influenced by SpongeBob.
7. I am the girl he describes and the muse he hasn’t met
Taken from the same New York Magazine interview:
“I don’t have any problem with what people refer to as sexy clothes,” Jacobs says. “I mean, everybody likes sex. The world would be a better place if people just engaged in sex and didn’t worry about it. But what I prefer is that even if someone feels hedonistic, they don’t look it. Curiosity about sex is much more interesting to me than domination. Like, Britney and Paris and Pamela might be someone’s definition of sexy, but they’re not mine. My clothes are not hot. Never. Never.
What I find more interesting is someone who is more introverted or mysterious…
I like romantic allusions to the past: what the babysitter wore, what the art teacher wore, what I wore during my experimental days in fashion when I was going to the Mudd Club and wanted to be a New Wave kid or a punk kid but was really a poseur. It’s the awkwardness of posing and feeling like I was in, but I never was in. Awkwardness gives me great comfort….
The Marc Jacobs “girl” (and they always say “girl”) “is not going to suffer. She’s like, ‘I bought a nice dress, and I’m going to wear it tonight.’ She’s the awkward little sister.”
“I often feel uncomfortable,” Jacobs says. “I have this feeling like this is only going to be good as long as it’s good.”
For me and doubtless for many others, Yves Saint Laurent is the greatest fashion designer ever. Better than Chanel (who he adored), better than Dior, Givenchy, Valentino or Lagerfeld. I’m not snarking on the others for stating this preference. To be second or third to Yves is still to have achieved greatness. Yves Saint Laurent is just nonpareil, that’s all. Sniff.
Yves Saint Laurent began his fashion apprenticeship working for Dior in Paris at age 17. Yeah, I know what you are thinking. Lazy no-gooder, what was he doing from 12 to 16? Well he was living in Algeria making clothes for his mother by hand, so I bet you feel bad now. Yves started off at Dior decorating the salon and designing accessories. The job was considered fairly entry level at the time. If a similar position were offered now the laboratories of Dior skincare could construct a whole new anti-aging serum using the pledged body organs of eager hopefuls.
Early on in the apprenticeship Yves was bold enough to start submitting couture sketches for Dior’s consideration. Christian Dior (the man, not the corporation) was generous to Yves and included more of his designs for the couture collections each year. By 1957, when Yves turned 21, Dior went to visit Yves’ mother to inform her that the young protege would one day be his successor. It must have been a moment made for the cinema: the great master anointing the gifted pupil. Or else it really boring and they all talked some stilted Gallic crap for an hour over tea and profiteroles, who knows? Madame Saint Laurent thought the whole thing was a bit strange because Dior was only 52 at the time. Somewhat eerily, Christian Dior died later in the same year from a massive heart attack, leaving Yves Saint Laurent to take over the house.
What followed was a mildly trying time where Yves was lauded for one season, sacked the next, drafted to the army, bullied to the point of a mental breakdown, and given psychoactive drugs and shock therapy in an institution. He came out of it OK though, and set up his own house in 1962 with the help of industrialist and all round savvy businessman Pierre Berge. At the time Berge was both YSL’s lover and business partner, but they split in 1976. Although from this point they were no longer romantic in the typical sense, they remained married in business and in life.
It is popularly understood that Berge provided the corporate grunt and commonsense to Yves’ wild aesthetic dreamland. Who knows if this is true. Just going off interviews it seems to me that Yves Saint Laurent was the kind of guy who was “crazy like a fox” as they say, and he would have known exactly what was going on about everything.
Often bios and obits of Yves Saint Laurent focus on how he changed the modern woman’s wardrobe with his iconic looks: trousers, le smoking tuxedo suits, graphic print shift dresses (inspired by Mondrian) and relaxed safari style. Women readers might think that dressing like David
Attenborough in the wild (or at the Oscars) is not exactly their thing. But have you gals ever owned anything khaki or utilitarian looking? Ever owned a smart black pant or a fitted black jacket? Yeah, thought so, best to show some respect.
These iconic modern looks are so identifiable that they tend to overshadow some of Yves Saint Laurent’s other design achievements. It is true that a lot of what the magazines call “modern classics” today can be attributed to Yves Saint Laurent. But to me what was more impressive about Yves Saint Laurent was his openness to international ideas. He was a global sampler, a lover of what is often termed from a Eurocentric lens “the exotic”. He went beyond the world of Paris fashion for inspiration and was consistently able to convert his impressions into covetable designs.
Consider this trajectory. You become an apprentice designer for the major French couture house at 17. From the time you become head designer at 21, the jobs of many people rest on the public reception to your creative output. Couture is a matter of great socio-political significance in the country where you live. It is a marker of national identity and prestige. A year after starting at your new job, you are sacked and disgraced. You have to find the confidence to start over. From this point you spend your entire career, almost your whole life, doing the hard graft of pumping out collection after collection from your Paris offices, year after year. If there was ever a set of circumstances that would inculcate repetition, conservatism and creative stasis, his were it.
Instead Yves went outside the French bourgeois style of polite dressing dictated by the tastes of people who could afford couture. He registered the significance of youth rebellion in the 60s and understood that haute couture was beginning to be seen as stuffy, elitist and exclusive…in a bad way. YSL was the first design house to create a ready-to-wear line, Rive Gauche, in 1966. Yves chose to display aesthetic and cultural referents from all over the world, particularly Africa and Asia. Bright colours, clashing prints, bolero jackets, peasant blouses, smocks, Chinoiserie and Japonisme, these were just some of his recurring looks.
Maybe he was inspired by his early years in Algeria. Or his travels to Morocco. Or maybe he was just the kind of guy who likes to fantasise and imagine life beyond his own little patch of land and time. YSL reinterpreted silhouettes from the 20s, 30s and 40s, and was a forerunner of retro dressing. YSL was the first design house to use “ethnic” (an ethnocentric term if ever there was one) models, by that I mean non-white ones. Yves once declared that Iman was his “dream woman”. This sort of seems unimpressively facile considering her undeniable gorgeousness but must have been a touch radical back in the days when no fashion houses employed black models.
Iman for YSL Rive Gauche. Paris Vogue, February 1980
Now I’m not saying that Yves Saint Laurent deserves a retrospective Nobel Peace prize for contributions to combating racism. Or that Marxists should worship him for creating socialist clothing workshops with Rive Gauche. It is equally possible to read Yves Saint Laurent’s curation of the exotic “Other” in fashion as continuing the exploitation and fetishisation of disempowered cultural groups. In this kind of reading Yves is the great coloniser. Similarly ready-to-wear can be read as a not so much a great contribution to democratising fashion but rather a canny way of getting
more people to buy more stuff while being seen as hip at the same time. I can see the theses piling up.
I think it is true that Yves Saint Laurent was part of a big business, and he knew how to represent social movements such as the boom in international travel and globalisation through clothes. At the same time I believe that Yves Saint Laurent was motivated by what he thought was beautiful. And that his concept of beauty was often more expansive and influential than his contemporaries. He was predictive enough to appreciate that fashion wasn’t going to be about designing a new hemline and silhouette each season anymore. Instead fashion was going to be more about allowing individuals to create their own look drawing on influences from around the world. It seems dead obvious now but it would have been contrary to his whole training. This receptiveness and intuition is why Yves Saint Laurent was a great designer and my favourite of all time.