Marc Jacobs On Heaven, Fendi And His Return To The Runway

You could say that Marc Jacobs is having a moment. There are the brilliant, liberated Runway collections, where models walk in towering platforms and deconstructed, avant-garde silhouettes; the stratospheric cult appeal of Heaven, the ever-viral, Gen Z-focused side label; and the mega, mainstream, commercial success of bags like The Snapshot and The Tote. Not to mention the recent unveiling of a collaborative capsule with Fendi under Kim Jones, a logo-hacked bridging of Marc’s own design language with that of the storied Italian house.

But moments are transitory, and Marc Jacobs is not. The brand, still helmed by its universally beloved namesake, has been at the forefront of the fashion industry for the nearly four decades since it was founded in 1984. The work of Marc Jacobs, the man, is indelibly written into fashion history: from the grunge-inspired collection that got him fired from Perry Ellis to the creation of ready-to-wear at Louis Vuitton (which basically birthed modern creative directorship as we knew it), and MJ’s theatrical NYFW shows, featuring the likes of Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus. His career, then, goes far beyond the fleeting. So, forget “a moment” – right now, what Marc Jacobs has is momentum.

A quick disclaimer before we get into it: my relationship with Marc Jacobs goes a little further than fandom. A Marc lover ever since I lusted after the legendary Stam bag, seen on the arm of a much older, much cooler girl at school, I’ve spent most of this year working with the brand on all things MJ in London, like the opening of a sparkling new Regent Street flagship. Which makes this an interview with Marc Jacobs – and also with my boss. No pressure, then.

“It’s so beautiful in New York right now!” Marc says cheerfully when we talk, him in the brand’s Spring Street studio, working on plans for the next Runway show, me in a Paris hotel room. “I’m excited about the work we’ve started to do for the next collection. I have no idea what it’ll look like but I’m excited to see where this goes.”

This sense of optimism isn’t limited to next season. The past few years have been a time of major change for the brand: change that means things are on track to reach his aim of $1 billion of sales in the next five years. With flights grounded and fashion months cancelled, the pandemic brought about lofty aspirations of industry reform, as well as some acknowledgement of past sins. Like in most fashion brands, there were cutbacks. The MJ team was downsized and attention became focused on what was essential. “There’d always been a lot of excess,” Marc reflects of the way things were. “Excess in the presentation of the clothes, in the order of fabric, excess in the production, and then all of the problems that come with that. If you don’t ship on time, orders are cancelled; people want to return things that didn’t sell.” Pandemic- prompted talk of a curtailing of the global schedule of events and pioneering new digital platforms and possibilities seemed promising.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of that went out the window as soon as things began to open back up, but not in Marc’s case. Under the guidance of CEO Eric Marechalle, who was appointed in 2017, the brand rethought its runway strategy, no longer selling straightforward catwalk collections but using them to set the tone for what’s sold on shop floors across the globe: like pieces with the monogram print, adapted from the Autumn Winter 2021 show, across unisex streetwear- inspired ready-to-wear at a more accessible price point (a T-shirt for £150, for example).

“Eric felt very strongly that Runway was really important to continue and we wanted to be able to control how we did that: the number of times a year we showed, when in the year we showed,” Marc explains. So after an almost two-year break without a collection, the shows moved off schedule. With Runway now only available to custom-order at Bergdorf Goodman, the collections became couture-like – custom order a Runway look if you can, get a bag or a pair of trackpants inspired by the runway if you can’t. It was an opportunity to question the unquestioned; like showing twice a year, and even the way models are traditionally photographed on the runway, with frozen face on, one foot raised behind them. In Marc’s new world, shaped with super- stylist Alastair McKimm, models are photographed from the side, as if striding into the future.

It’s a future that’s working for him. Despite the reality of a scaled- down design team, the rest of the business’s commercial success (in other words, those handbag sales) now powers the creative vision of Runway, which, in turn, generates that commercial success. “I feel even stronger now than I did then that the collection is absolutely important and really what I love,” Marc says. “This is the way I get to do it without a lot of outside noise.”

And then there’s Heaven, an entirely new expression of the brand, launched in 2020, which has collaborated with beloved weirdos like Gregg Araki, recreated an American Beauty-inspired campaign imagery of Mena Suvari lying on a bed of rose petals and hosted a NYFW rave in Brooklyn featuring Doja Cat, Pink Pantheress and Charli XCX. It’s spearheaded by art director Ava Nirui, whose curatorial eye, cult obsessions and extremely good taste have made it into one of the most relevant things happening in the industry right now. Sellout baby tees and teddy bear necklaces launch in monthly drops, all with a Gen Z-friendly price point. Most in demand? The infamous Kiki platform boots from the AW16 show (“the goth season!”), now reissued as part of Heaven.

“Heaven is cool, and it’s accessible and so authentic. I love it so much. I’m so proud of what Ava’s done,” Marc says, with enthusiasm. “Whether that’s a picture with [visual artist] Harley [Weir] or a collaboration with [Drain Gang rapper] Bladee, or going back to Sofia [Coppola]’s [1994] TV show Hi Octane. I love that Ava’s drawing on a past that was so important to me without being stuck in it and including people who are doing amazing work in this time.” While Heaven is built around collaborations, since the Vuitton days it’s always been Marc reaching out to people to work with him, not the other way around.

Not so in the case of Fendi, which saw Marc step into the role of collaborator, designing a series of looks in a fashion spectacular that even saw the legendary Linda Evangelista return to the runway. “I was very grateful and very flattered and very touched that Kim, who I worked with for many years at Vuitton, invited me to participate in the collection he was showing this September,” he says. But there were reservations. “I was also very scared; I was really worried that I wouldn’t be able to do it and that it wouldn’t be good. I was very insecure and very unsure about it but I also felt I couldn’t say no – it was a great opportunity and I knew that Kim would make me feel comfortable.”

The definitive standout of NYFW, Marc’s contribution took the form of a series of looks marked out by giant, fluffy hats, reconfigured Baguette bags and oversized, graphic lettering. Trailing denim and cargo skirts, plus opera gloves and corsetry, gestured to Marc’s most recent runway collection, while the instantly recognisable signature of MJ accessories – with the name of the item written on it – saw bags emblazoned with ‘The Baguette’. He may have felt out of his comfort zone, but it was a great experience. “The three days leading up to the show, there was this incredible setup in New York,” he recalls. “I mean, they rented this building and had a full atelier. I think they flew in 120 different people from all over Fendi. Kim was set up in one room and I was set up in another one next to him with Alastair and there were people [going] in and out. Linda and Bella [Hadid] coming in for fittings and everyone coming to see what was going on in our world next door. It was so much fun!”

Even after four decades, Marc’s still having fun. “It’s important to be in the present and focus on what is and not what was,” he says of his current mindset. “There’s an expression I learned a long time ago: ‘compare and despair’. When I go into the studio and compare it to how it used to be, or how New York used to be, or how doing shows used to be, of course I am going to end up in despair. But if I look at how beautiful today is, I’m just going to be in a more positive place.” Things may be different now, but that’s fine too. “What we have is our choice – we can look at it like being alive today and working today is the most wonderful gift anyone could receive and we can have gratitude for that.”

Taken from 10+ Issue 5 – WORLD IN MOTION – order your copy here


Photographer JIMI FRANKLIN
Photographer’s assistant IAN BISHOP
Make-up assistant SHIRO SATO

All clothes throughout Marc Jacobs AW22


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