Marc Jacobs

Interview by
Gert Jonkers
Photography by
Willy Vanderperre


As the designer for the Louis Vuitton ready-to-wear lines for men and women and for his own NY-based fashion houses Marc Jacobs and Marc by Marc Jacobs, Marc Jacobs is among the world’s current superstars of fashion. After having sent a mind-blowing amount of faxes, letters, emails and having made dozens of phone calls, I finally meet an incredibly relaxed and friendly Marc Jacobs in his spacious office at the Vuitton headquarters in Paris. He has a dog named Alfred.

Gert: Can you describe the house you grew up in?
Marc: Oh my god, that’s a very difficult question to answer. I grew up in New York. I was born and raised in New York City, but we left the city when I was around five and moved to suburban New Jersey, and then my father died two years after we’d moved, so we moved back to the city and my mother remarried. And every time she remarried, which was many times, we moved to another place. Usually it meant moving away from the city when she married and moving back when she divorced. So it was a pretty chaotic and confusing childhood.
All kids dream of living in the capital, right?
Well, I was very comfortable in New York City. We lived in a building on the East Side, Uptown, and I quite liked the idea of having lots of neighbors, having lots of people around. Grass and parks weren’t important to me. Things that made me comfortable were noise and people, and I liked, you know, all the chaos. In fact it was quietness and calm that made me very uncomfortable. It still probably is. I really like city life. Well, that is, now I’m living in a really quiet and calm place in Paris and I really like it, and I really appreciate going to the park in the morning with my dog, but I still haven’t become one of those people who really enjoys weekends in the country, or traveling to places where you see sites and so.
I don’t know where I picked this up, but is it true that you had some sort of Sid Vicious obsession? I can imagine you had. You’re the right age for that.
I don’t know if I had a Sid Vicious obsession… I was just a kid, like, I was constantly teased at school, made fun of, you know. As we moved to different places, I went to different schools all the time. And I was always very artistic. From a very early age, I was interested in things that I guess young boys weren’t interested in. I hand painted and embroidered my jeans. I was really intrigued by the teenagers who were my babysitters, or my babysitters’ friends, how groovy they looked. I’m sure “groovy” was the word for it at the time. As a 9-year-old I wanted to look like a 17-year-old.
And did you?
Yes, I tried to wear, like, bell bottoms and platform shoes. That didn’t make me very popular with the kids my own age who were into sports and playing basketball and so on. I thought that was stupid and silly. The kids that I was drawn to were older and they seemed to be involved in sex and drugs and music and art and whatever.
Okay, but you didn’t go to the Chelsea Hotel to mourn when Sid died?
I remember I cried when I heard he’d died. I must have been 12.
I do remember that when I first heard about the Sex Pistols I was kind of frightened by them. I must have been about 12 or maybe younger. But I’ve always been drawn to things that scare me in a way. I remember hearing about them even before I heard their music. Recently I was asked to write the introduction for this photo book “We’re desperate” by Jim Jocoy that just came out. I was very flattered that they asked me, but I didn’t know what to say, so I just tried to be as truthful as possible. My experience with the punk rock scene is… to be honest, I was mainly attracted to the visuals. I found something esthetically beautiful in the way it looked. I loved all these skinny boys in shrunken leather jackets that looked kind of coolish, and the girls… There was something very frightening and off-putting too, but it was the esthetic that I really loved. I’m a visual person.
I guess it sticks forever if you’re excited by an image like that at that age.
Well, as I said, first I was attracted to boys in bell bottoms, or girls, or whatever. I was always fashion-fascinated.
But is punk a lasting turn-on or fetish for you?
Not really. Well, in a way, yeah. It’s a bit odd… I was going to a punk club in New York called Hurrah. I was 15 and it must have been the first summer that I wasn’t sent off to a sleep-away camp, so I got a summer job in the mailroom of this talent agency, the William Morris Agency. My father had worked there and my uncle was high up there, so he got me the job. And one of the agents that was responsible for scouting new talent in the rock clubs got me on the guest list of Hurrah, even though I was underage. I ended up going there a lot, seeing bands. And after a year, I was sixteen, somebody introduced me to a man who was later to become my boyfriend. I’d never gone out with another guy, but I wanted to go out with this person and it turned out that he was the owner of the club and it was, like, really funny. He was like: “You’re this kid that’s on the guest list all the time for whatever reason”.
And he knew you were underage?
Yeah, that was probably the most attractive thing about me, ha ha ha. I was chicken.
Did that last?
Oh yeah, we stayed boyfriends for ten years.
Was it a good club?
Yeah, Hurrah was unique when it was unique. First it was a disco, but when Studio 54 opened up became THE disco of New York, which I also went to quite frequently, then Hurrah decided they weren’t going to compete, they were just going to change the audience. So then you would regularly see Patti Smith, and Sid Vicious… I think Sid stabbed Patti Smith’s brother there. And Debbie Harry and Jimmy Destry were always there. Gang of Four played, and I saw that band the Plastics from Japan there. I don’t know, everybody performed at Hurrah.
I’m interested in that punk fetish because one of the first gay porn magazines that I really got excited about was JD’s, which Bruce LaBruce did in the 80s and…
I think I met Bruce LaBruce back then. I think I know who he is. I mean, of course I know his work, but I think he’s the same guy that I met through Robert, my boyfriend who owned Hurrah, back when Bruce did some play in New York. So I’m pretty sure I met Bruce LaBruce when I was 18.
Alright. Well, anyway, I saw JD’s years ago and I thought it was such a turn on to see punk boys and skinheads having a wank over each other and fucking each other and beating each other up and…
I wasn’t really into that. I never really fit in, I guess. I never really fit in anywhere, I think. I definitely wasn’t that look. I was so attracted to it, but I wasn’t the look.
No? You didn’t do the look?
Well, I was a bit of a poser but I didn’t have spiky black hair and I was never six-feet tall and lanky and skinny with white skin. I’ve always had an olive complexion and long hair. I never looked like what I was so attracted to. I certainly tried to dress that way. I went through all kinds of phases.
Until you got here?
Oh, this look has been many years in the making. The ponytail, the torn pants; now it’s just, like, whatever.
Your labels Marc Jacobs and Marc by Marc Jacobs are very much about the New York Look, no?
I don’t know if what I do has anything to do with what New York is right now. Perhaps it has more to do with romantic memories and a strong belief that there still is that New York spirit that I remember from my youth. I’m not terribly connected to what’s going on in New York right now. Like, I’m very detached from skater culture, I don’t go to clubs anymore, and I don’t have a lot of really young friends. But in your magazine and elsewhere I see names like so I know who he is and I know his work but I’m not running around with that group of people. I feel very disconnected. But in a way, New York never changes. It’s nice to know that that spirit still exists. It’s an ephemeral thing to try and describe, but the New York youth culture is a bit of debauchery, a bit of decadence, a bit of youthful bravado and kind of Fuck-Art-Let’s-Dance thing, Live Fast Die Young. That’s what I was always attracted to. I never wanted to be the president of the United States, I never wanted to be the head of the football team, I never wanted to be a scientist and cure cancer. I wanted to go out and have a fantastic fucking time, and I wanted to hear music so loud that… I just wanted more more more. Hedonistic debauchery.
That’s different in Paris, I’d guess.
Well, yeah, New York is unique. I feel so privileged for not having grown up with any prejudice. I was frightened by people who hated other people and who called me a fag, just because they were so full of hatred. I was ashamed sometimes of being gay or Jewish, because of other people’s hatred towards that religion or that sexual preference. I was never brought up thinking that one thing was better than the other, that there was right or wrong. My friends weren’t my friends because of religion, sexual preference or the color of their skin. They say in the cliché that New York is a melting pot, but I mean, I studied Spanish at school, and I had neighbors who spoke different languages. It’s ironic that the gay community in New York managed to find a way to move away from everything heterosexual and live in their community in Chelsea. I used to go to clubs that were mixed clubs, but one would never call them “a mixed club”. Like Danceteria. You had every type of person of every sexual persuasion and orientation, and it didn’t matter. In sex clubs too… I couldn’t understand the idea of wanting to be equal and yet wanting to be apart. We used to always make fun of the clones you know, the 70s clones with the moustaches and the leather boots and the same kind of jeans with the button unbuttoned and blah-blah-blah-blah-blah. And later we had all these teenage boys with their identical punk haircut and ear piercings and identical Celtic-sort-of tattoo. Isn’t it great how they are all so individually the same?
Haven’t you, like every fashion designer, created a brand and a style that makes it possible for people to walk around like a sort of Marc Jacobs clone?
No! Come on! I don’t buy into that. They’re just clothes.
They have a certain, very recognizable look.
Well, me and my team, we have a certain ideal and we cast models to express that certain ideal, but I hope to god that people have the individual sense to make them into their own thing.
But you make clothes that you could definitely wear yourself.
Well, they’re what we think looks good. But I don’t believe in fashion dictatorship, and I find that a anybody who follows the dictates of fashion is a bit lost. I’m excited by style, not so much by fashion.
Were there any good sex clubs in New York?
There were. I didn’t really get into going to them, like, I mean, at some point I started meeting friends at the Spike and places like that. I never went to the Anvil or the Mineshaft or any of those places. I think I was very happy having a boyfriend and being in a relationship, you know, so I never explored that side of New York. I missed the boat on that. There were a couple of sex places that we went to, but it was more on the lark. I remember going with friends and we were just voyeuristic about it. And I don’t regret not having participated, although there’s definitely a side of my psyche that could run in that direction. I did explore more of that probably in Europe, you know, later on. But never too much in New York. I always had that kind of insecurity that I couldn’t do it in the town that I lived in. Like they say, don’t shit where you eat, you know.
Ha ha ha.
I had that consciousness.
To not meet your neighbors in a sex club.
To not eat your neighbor, ha ha ha. So I participated very peripherally in any part of that scene. It wasn’t where my interests were at the age between 16 and 25, and after that they were definitely closing. And then we were left with places with strippers and I loved that very much. I used to love after-hours clubs and being terribly drunk and high and being around all the kind of drama of that world. It’s not something I’m interested in anymore. I only work. And I sometimes meet friends for dinner. I’m not drawn to it anymore. I like waking up early to walk my dog in the park.
You said you didn’t want to be the President of the United States…
I didn’t mean THIS president. I certainly wouldn’t want to be George Bush
No, no, who would? But you did you always fancy the idea of having your name on a store front?
Yeah, I wanted to be famous. I was attracted to the idea of celebrity and decadence and glamour. It could be beaten-down glamour, like in punk, but still…
You always pictured a store with “Marc Jacobs” on it.
Well, unfortunately this is my real name. Growing up, I was never that happy with my name, or with the way I looked, but…
What was your ideal fashion-designer name?
I didn’t have any. I just thought that mine wasn’t as good as somebody else’s. I don’t think anybody would want to change his name to Marc Jacobs, do you? It would have been nice to have something more glamorous, but I’d be too embarrassed to change my name. That would be too weird for me.
You don’t have a middle name?
I do: Robert. I wasn’t gonna change my name to Marc Robert or something. That sounds like a hairdresser. Not that I’m putting down hairdressers, but…
Are you taking some time off now, after yesterday’s show?
I don’t know. This morning I woke up and I went to the park with my dog, and stuff, but then I thought: what am I gonna do with myself? I felt a little lost. I just love the work I do. The last vacation I had was two years ago. I just don’t really like vacations. I’m happiest when I’m working.
And you walk your dog every day?
Yeah, I have a major relationship with my dog. A wonderful relationship. He’s the greatest thing.
You also have a boyfriend, right?
Yeah. I’m mad at him today though.
He didn’t show up at the show yesterday?
He did, but otherwise… I can’t get into it, but we have a very strange relationship. I seem to feel like I’m the king of dysfunctional relationships. At the moment I feel like the best relationship I’ve ever had is with my dog. But that’s today, I don’t feel like this every day. I love my boyfriend, but I’m just very pissed off at the moment.
How old are you?
I’m gonna be 40 in a month. How old are you?
36. So same age as you.
No! There’s a big difference.
It’s only 4 years. Is there something big going to happen to me in the coming 4 years?
Well, I know, it’s just a number… But now that I’m becoming 40 I keep saying to myself I’ve got to stop wearing torn and destroyed clothes and I’ve got to do something about my hair. It’s weird how you think you have to start looking a certain way. Not that I’m planning to impress anybody by wearing freshly pressed trousers and a good sweater everyday, but there’s just that thing in my head psychologically that I’ve got to start acting more seriously.
Have you always had long hair?
Yeah. That’s another thing, I don’t want to become one of those 40-year-old men with a pony tail. You know what I mean? It’s really annoying me. I don’t wanna look like an aging rock star. I guess one day I will walk into the bathroom in the morning and chop it off. But it’s not very high on my priority list. What I look like doesn’t really matter to me as much as it used to. That must be why I completely stopped going to the gym. I really feel fat and out of shape.
I don’t think fat is unfancy.
No, but sometimes it crosses my mind. I feel so good when I do take care a little bit.
But you’re scared of falling into the gay cliché?
That I wouldn’t even get near! There was one time in my life where I got so addicted to the gym… I had a trainer, I was going four times a week doing abs classes and steps classes, and I was quite pleased. But I was never a muscle queen. I would never achieve that even if I wanted to. Not that I wanted to. But I was quite proud with what I saw. I felt like, wow, I’d sleep with me!
What’s for you the sexiest of the three collections that you do.
I don’t know. I don’t really find clothes terribly sexy.
No. I find people sexy. Clothes to me aren’t sexy. Like, a dress isn’t sexy. Maybe the girl who wears it is sexy. Or, if it’s a boy, I think the most sexy thing is no clothes at all. Anyway, I’m getting into a whole different thing.
Well, it’s verging on my favorite topic: clothes and sex.
I find that maybe, perhaps the Marc collection is the most sexy ’cause it’s the most youthful, and what I find sexy is youth. Marc’s the least sophisticated and the most youthful.
Here I go again with my fetish theory, but I’m intrigued by how some people will never look at you unless you’re wearing army or leather, or there’re people who don’t get excited unless you’re wearing a red Lacoste shirt. And if you’re wearing a yellow Lacoste, they won’t look at you, but with a red shirt they’d totally try to pick you up.
Yeah, I get that. Like, there’re guys who wear their pants really low and it’s really sexy to see their asses, but if they’re trying to look like one of those people, it isn’t sexy to me at all. So it’s probably somebody in a Lacoste shirt who probably doesn’t think of a Lacoste shirt as a sexy thing at all; probably some straight guy going to work who doesn’t know anything about fashion who to me is really sexy in a Lacoste shirt. It’s almost the not-knowing that’s sexy. When the look is too contrived, you know… Trying to assimilate a look to be sexy to me is pretty transparent in the first place. So, you know, somebody who just kind of stumbles into a sexy look, but who’s not been thinking about fashion at all…
Have you ever wanted to become a ballet dancer?
No, why do you ask?
For some weird reason a lot of faggots we’ve talked to in BUTT started out ballet dancing.
Really? I’m not a dancer of any sort. I actually think I’m one of the few designers who’s not frustrated about being a designer. This is what I always wanted to do: design clothes. I’m not a designer who wants to be a rock star, or wishes he’d win an Academy Award or direct a film, or who wishes he were Nurejev. I’m just happy to be designing clothes. I guess it sounds insipid to say I’m happy doing what I’m doing.
No, not at all.
It’s what I dreamed of doing. I have a genuine passion for clothes and fashion.
You also seem to have immense liberty here at Vuitton, as if they never chase you with sales results and turnover diagrams and that shit.
Well, eh, yes and no. I guess. Sometimes I am able to turn it out. I guess we’re the best when we’re doing what we love doing and the results are always the best when we trust our instincts. When we listen too much to what other people say, we usually shoot ourselves in the foot, you know.
That National Geographic collection that you did for Louis Vuitton men’s wear this summer, was that your intuition? I love that collection.
Yeah, me too. You know I’m very happy with the team that does men’s wear for us, with Keith, and with Olivier and Willy and Peter. I sometimes wish I were more involved. but men’s wear is not something I’m really good at. In fact, men’s fashion frightens me. I really find men who are fashionably dressed terribly unsexy. I think fashion is something for women. It’s a terribly sexist thing to say, but I just don’t find fashionably dressed men attractive, and men who take too much time in the bathroom and spend too much time on their body, I find a bit poncy and silly. It just doesn’t turn me on. So I let it go to the people who find it a turn-on and who are really passionate about it.
It’s weird to have your name put on the collections they make, isn’t it?
It is. I feel a certain amount of shame. I feel a bit fraudulent in saying that I’ve been doing this men’s wear collection when I haven’t had daily involvement in it. Although I can say very honestly I don’t do every part of the women’s collection, I am involved in every aspect of the women’s collection. But with the men’s, it’s a bit different. I feel like a bit of a fraud, and that’s what’s tough for me. I don’t know what other designers feel, but I just don’t like to pretend that I’m something that I’m not. I’m not superman and I don’t do everything.
Yes, you are Superman.
No, I’m not.

For the interview, Marc Jacobs wore a short sleeved white Marc Jacobs pocket-T, torn pin stripe pants and a pair of Converse All-star sneakers. He does not own an appartment in New York anymore, he now stays at the Mercer whenever he’s there. To read the whereabouts of Marc’s bull terrier Alfred, check this summer season’s issue of fashion magazine Pop.

Originally published in BUTT 7