Marc Jacobs in New York’s West Village. Credit Jason Schmidt/nytimes.com
"Hi, I'm Marc,” says a smiling, shortish, muscular man in a very white shirt and black trousers with even whiter socks. He has a housekeeper (“This is Reisa”) and a personal chef (“This is Lauren”), but he answers the door of his West Village townhouse himself, at least when reporters come over. He looks 38 or 39 and is definitely Jewish, but maybe he could also be Greek. “I thought it was so strange this morning,” says Marc, who is not going to say anything stranger than the fact that he’s actually 52, “but Nick said, ‘I left you a folder with Sarah, a picture of Sarah,’ and I was like, ‘Why, so I wouldn’t let someone else in the building?’ But no, the press office just did it. They put a picture of you, and like, who you wrote for. Like, as if that would change anything.”
Marc prefers not to use last names. In fact, he is bored with most ways of being identified. “I think it was after the Caitlyn Jenner thing,” he says, folding himself into a snail-colored sofa, “and I just said, like, can we just start calling people by their name? You know, not what they do for a living, not what their sexual preference is, not their age, not who they’re related to. It’s 2015. Just say, ‘Hi, I’m Caitlyn.’ ‘Hi, I’m Marc.’ It’s not like, ‘I’m Marc, homosexual Jew from New York.’ ” He laughs. “You know, ‘fashion designer.’ ”
If Marc isn’t a fan of the full introduction, it’s partly because he hasn’t needed one since at least 2008, when Page Six made him a fixture and the New Yorker profiled him for a second time. Twenty-four years before that, in 1984, a 21-year-old Marc met a 30-year-old Robert, who became his business partner and best friend for life. This past February, Marc entered his fourth decade on the runway with a fall collection of after-eight wear in every available shade of “deep,” littered with minks and sequins and inspired by Diana Vreeland’s memos. (Imagine her now: “Don’t you think it would be a good idea if we did away with last names altogether?”) To industry observers, the show was both a dramaturgic triumph and a commercial departure from his on-trend yet offbeat sensibility: an announcement that “Marc Jacobs” means serious business. The company is allegedly, finally, going public within the next several months, which means the designer famous for changing his mind with the seasons may soon be bound by expectations not for newness but for quarterly earnings.
“I was terrified last week,” he says when I ask how he’s sleeping. “I went to my shrink — it was a Wednesday morning — and I felt like I was having such a panic attack. I’d had one of my nightmares. It’s a recurring theme: I’m up against something uncomfortable or difficult, and just as I feel like I’m making some progress, there’s an end to the dream that says no, you’re not getting anywhere, you have to start over. This time, the nightmare was so bad that it felt like I was awake thinking about it, rather than asleep and dreaming. Which is another recurring thing, when I can’t differentiate between creating a scenario and dreaming it.”
Marc has been seeing shrinks since he was 7. From 11 or 12 to 19, he was raised in the Majestic, an acropolitan co-op on Central Park West, by his grandmother, Helen, who went around telling shop owners that her son’s son would be “the next Calvin.” She was right: Like Calvin, his name would become synonymous with youthful American sportswear, provocatively advertised. Unlike Calvin, who eventually settled into a repertoire of whistle-clean minimalism on the catwalk and heritage logowear on the street, Marc has kept his rangy mind on “next.” “If I think about the future,” he says, “I just become afraid.”
His fear is at odds with his reputation for effortlessly setting trends, yet his reputation belies his real talent: setting a trend on its head. In 1992 he showed his infamous “grunge collection” for Perry Ellis, perennially cited as the reason he was fired four months later and, since being fired made him sound like a rebel, as a groundbreaking moment in fashion. “I had no idea I’d be fired,” Marc tells me. He laughs. “I’d never had any idea I’d be fired. But it’s still my favorite collection, because it marked a time when I went with my instincts against instructions, and I turned out to be right. It came out of a genuine feeling for what I saw on the streets and all around me.” Indeed, grunge was already everywhere, from the streets to the malls to the collections of two other New York designers that very same season, but only Marc’s dream of the zeitgeist was so lucid, so precisely appropriated from what he saw, that the zeitgeist came to look like his creation. By taking $2 flannels from St. Marks Place and copying them in silk — a trick akin to his parents’ switching a “c” for “k” in his name — Marc made the familiar uncommon.
(Credits from left: Juergen Teller/Courtesy of Marc Jacobs; Firstview)