You’ve heard of Marc Jacobs, obviously. You know him as the blue-haired, kilt-wearing, diamond-lobed designer at the helm of two hot houses, one on each side of the pond. You know that you and about a million other women from SoHo to Shanghai love the quirky-feminine look of his own label as much as the coquettish glamour of his work for Louis Vuitton.
Fact is, his is such an interesting persona that you probably know more about Marc Jacobs, the all-purpose celebrity than Marc Jacobs, the fashion designer: According to a 2008 New Yorker profile, market research at a Midwestern mall showed that American shoppers did recognize the name, but were a bit confused about whether Jacobs was an actor or a rock star. His mass-media fame has been fueled by Perez Hilton–worthy personal trials and travails, a love life documented avidly by the paparazzi, and lusty tales of wild, extravagant parties. (The Marc Jacobs company’s holiday bash promises two things every December: debauched revelry, and an appearance by the boss in the most outrageous getup imaginable.) Fans riding past his Bleecker Street, New York, fiefdom on a tour bus in 2010 were probably not surprised to glimpse a blow-up of its tanned, tattooed king posing provocatively on a bed of crinkly silver Mylar to promote his new fragrance, suggestively named Bang.
But Jacobs was not simply born god of an empire bearing his name. Before a muscular makeover in 2007-2008, that glistening Adonis plastered across city billboards had been the very image of a classic New York neurotic—an uncombed, bespectacled chain-smoker with a penchant for faded logo tees and tattered Converse sneakers. But waxed and buff or downtown-dishevelled, Jacobs has always been a genuine arbiter of cool, a prodigious talent with a third eye for knowing what women want to wear.
From his first whimsical sketches, his pencil has intuitively tapped the Zeitgeist. In 1984, when he was still a design student, his oversize, polka-dot sweaters swept up a batch of awards at Parsons School of Design. Within days, the au courant Manhattan boutique Charivari had commissioned a set, and before the ink dried on Jacobs’s diploma, he was offered his own label. His earliest runway outings—the first, an over-the-top homage to Amadeus and Purple Rain, the second featuring cheeky pink smiley-face sweaters—charmed critics at The New York Times, which ran a picture of fashion’s latest whiz-kid, clad in a voluminous sweater and high-tops, Mickey Mouse–gloved hands raised high in triumph.
But as the saying goes, nothing good ever comes easy. The next few years would test Jacobs in many ways: Theft, fire, backers gone AWOL, and a cancelled show were just the start of his troubles. In 1992, he was gaining a toehold as the new head of the classic sportswear label Perry Ellis when he staged his infamous Grunge show. While many in the front row adored his upmarket take on garage-band chic—modeled with just the right slacker insouciance by Shalom Harlow and Christy Turlington—his bosses, who promptly gave him the boot, did not.
Ultimately, Jacobs’s daring bid to elevate a counterculture movement to the runway would fix his reputation as a designer with an on-pulse prescience for trends. His streetwise aesthetic—in his words, “a little preppie, a little grungy, a little couture”—won him the hearts of all the hippest chicks, including the indie director Sofia Coppola and Winona Ryder, Hollywood’s deposed princess. (Kate Moss is another friend and muse.)
For more than 20 years, he has been building his brand of playful and highly wearable clothes and accessories. The offbeat It girls he casts in his ads—often, star friends like the aforementioned—are the type who toss flea market finds together with Parisian labels and can carry off quirky, clever, or even cartoonish looks (a trompe l’oeil handbag or the superpopular Mouse flats) with confidence. As a complement to his namesake collection, Jacobs introduced its hugely popular little-sister line, Marc by Marc Jacobs, in 2000.
In 1997, the French conglomerate LVMH tapped the native New Yorker to jazz up the 143-year-old house of Louis Vuitton. Fulfilling a long-held dream, the hugely prolific designer decamped to the City of Light and positioned himself as a kind of louche lad of the luxury set, partying hard while spinning out season after season of glossy looks for Parisian glamour girls—and all those who wish they were one. He gambled Vuitton’s fortunes on collaborations with the eighties-neon designer Stephen Sprouse and the whimsical Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, and—like everything he touches—the results (subverting the L.V. monogram into graffiti scribbles and Skittles-rainbow colors) were solid gold. Within ten years, Jacobs had quadrupled the company’s profits, turning what was essentially a staid luggage firm into a global fashion powerhouse.
Amid the chichi trappings of his life at the pinnacle of fashion’s power structure, Jacobs’s irreverent wit still prevails. He has sent models down the runway with their hair done in enormous poodle-poufed afro wigs, and sporting Eisenhower-era cocktail dresses with a hot-pink fishnet-stocking print. “Go out on the street—that’s how a stylish girl dresses,” Jacobs once said. “Fashion has to have irony right now.”
First in VogueSeptember
BornNew York City
LabelsLouis Vuitton Marc Jacobs Marc by Marc Jacobs Marc Jacobs Menswear Little Marc Marc Jacobs Look Perry Ellis Sketchbook
Marc Jacobs born in New York City. His mother and father are agents for the William Morris talent agency. Marc will spend his early years in Teaneck, New Jersey.
Jacobs’s father, who represented the likes of comedienne Joan Rivers, dies at the young age of 32. His mother will remarry three times, moving young Marc and his brother and sister around the Tri-State Area.
A thirteen-year-old Marc applies for a job at Charivari, a trendy New York clothing boutique. “I told them I would work in the stockroom. I would do anything. And they wouldn’t have to pay me,” he will later recall. (“I was 25 when I was twelve,” he later jokes to Vogue.)
Charivari takes him on. As he folds sweaters and dresses mannequins, he chats up influential patrons, including sportswear designer Perry Ellis. “[He] embodied cool to me,” Jacobs will later say. “He had long hair; he didn’t wear a suit and tie, and he made funky clothes that were a big success. He gave me a lot of hope.” The enthusiastic employee whips up costumes for the company Christmas party.
Becomes estranged from his mother and brother and sister, and opts to live with his paternal grandmother in her Beaux-Arts apartment in the Majestic on Central Park West. “I loved that she went to Saks Fifth Avenue to buy something, or to Bonwit Teller to buy a scarf, and Lord & Taylor to buy stockings,” he will later tell Vanity Fair. He will later credit his grandmother, who teaches him to knit and brags about him to the butcher, as the biggest influence in his life. Through Parsons School of Design, takes a summer course on costume in Paris. Not wanting to leave, he cries on the plane ride home. Hanging out at Manhattan nightspots including Studio 54 and the Mudd Club, he aspires to the glossy lives of the artists and designers he bumps elbows with on the dance floor. “The idea of this glamour and hedonism was so fantastic, and I was just like this little voyeur, sort of dancing my head off on the sidelines,” he will later say. He even hosts a fete for Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto. “I had a ball,” he will later tell The New Yorker. “I mean, I really did.”
Graduates from the High School of Art and Design and, on the advice of Perry Ellis, enrolls at Parsons full time.
April: Named Parsons’s Design Student of the Year for his senior collection of three Op-Art sweaters, hand-knit by his grandmother. The oversize, trapezoidal pieces also net him the school’s Chester Weinberg and Perry Ellis Gold Thimble awards. Ruben Thomas executive Robert Duffy taps him to design a ready-to-wear collection for the company’s Sketchbook label. “Those sweaters with the dots and smiley faces had so much charm and humor, and proportions that I loved. I guess you could say I had a design crush,” Duffy will later tell W. Jacobs and Duffy will soon forge a strong business partnership, establishing Jacobs Duffy Designs, Inc. in a tiny garment district studio. May: Charivari owner Barbara Weiser places an order and sends Jacobs to Japan to put his sweaters into production. They are sold under the Marc Jacobs for Marc and Barbara label.November: Jacobs makes his spring 1985 debut for Sketchbook with a collection of “sportswear with a bit of Mozart and Prince’s trashy sex appeal,” as he describes it. December:The New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham snaps the Charivari sweaters on the street. Jacobs later cites this exposure as “sort of the beginning of my career.”
April: Shows second collection for Sketchbook, charming critics.May:The New York Times includes him in an article on hot new designers, calling his work “young and irreverent,” with “a whimsical, childlike grace with a hint of the exuberance of the 1960s.”October: Ruben Thomas, the parent company of Sketchbook, goes out of business. November: Jacobs participates in the Fashion Aid benefit for African relief at the Palladium nightclub.
January: Jacobs and Duffy establish Marc Jacobs, Inc. Their financier is the Canadian manufacturer Jack Atkins. (The firm will soon go bankrupt—but not before the duo is fired.) “I’m not in the designer market,” Jacobs tells The New York Times. “I don’t want to be as intimidating as Calvin Klein or any of those people.”April: Shows first collection under the Marc Jacobs label. September: Jacobs is one of Vogue’s “seven rising stars of fashion” in its roundup “A New Wave.” (A young Isabel Toledo also makes the cut.) November: Jacobs—now backed by the U.S. arm of the Japanese manufacturer Onward Kashiyama—is forced to cancel his show when his collection is held over for a customs quota inspection.
January: He becomes the youngest designer ever to receive the CFDA’s Perry Ellis Award for New Fashion Talent. A wire service report notes, “Jacobs, with a foot-long ponytail running down his back, faced a horde of celebrated designers and socialites at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” He is quoted as saying, “I’m very nervous, but I’m also, probably, the very most happiest person in the room.”May: Featured in a 48 Hours episode about life on Seventh Avenue, “Rags to Riches.” November:Tapped by Perry Ellis executives to be vice president of design; Duffy signs on as president of the women’s line. (Ellis, who had died two years before, had previously expressed a desire for the pair to join his label.)
February: Hires Tom Ford to work on womenswear. (Tracy Reese soon also comes on board.) Vogue sits down with the 25-year-old talent taking over at Perry Ellis. April: Jacobs’s first collection for Perry Ellis, with an American-flag theme, debuts to a packed crowd at the Puck building in SoHo. Jacobs poses forVanity Fair wearing nothing but his signature motorcycle boots and a yellow sheet. November: A Perry Ellis resort look—a white-and-yellow-striped, spaghetti-strap dress—makes the cover of Vogue.
Jacobs’s designs for Perry Ellis’s secondary line, Perry Ellis Portfolio, are featured in the December issue of Vogue.
The video for Sonic Youth’s hit single “Sugar Kane” is shot in the Perry Ellis showroom in the midst of the creation of Jacobs’s notorious Grunge collection. Both Jacobs and Chloë Sevigny—then an unknown intern at Sassy magazine—make cameos.September: The infamous collection is shown for spring 1993. “Grunge is a hippied romantic version of punk,” Jacobs says. Models of the moment—including Christy Turlington and Shalom Harlow—saunter down his runway clad in layers (crocheted vests, cashmere thermals, and silk plaid faux-flannels) accessorized with slouchy watch caps, satin Birkenstocks, and Doc Martens. “I liked the idea of making some visual noise through clothing,” he explains to a reporter. “I found a two-dollar flannel shirt on St. Mark’s Place and I sent it off to Italy and had it made into 0-a-yard plaid silk.” Jacobs is included in Vogue’s roundup of five young “maverick” designers.December:Vogue publishes its memorable “Grunge and Glory” pictorial featuring designs by Jacobs and Anna Sui, worn by models Naomi Campbell, Nadja Auermann, and Kristen McMenamy.
Jacobs and Duffy form their own licensing and design company, Marc Jacobs International Company, L.P. February: Jacobs is simultaneously honored with the CFDA Women’s Designer of the Year award and terminated by Perry Ellis—which, despite raves from the fashion crowd,was very unhappy with his Grunge collection. (The label subsequently shutters its designer line.) March: Suzy Menkes, fashion editor of the International Herald Tribune, hands out “Grunge is Ghastly” buttons at the fall collections in Milan. Duffy will remember thinking, “This is how our friends dress, and we can’t be that crazy.” The pair are left dazed and demoralized by the very public dismissal, but before long, thanks to encouragement from Vogue editor Anna Wintour and Italian designer Gianni Versace—and a second mortgage on Duffy’s house—they will scrape together enough money to start again. October: Jacobs talks with Vogue about plans for his new line.
April: Stages a comeback with a small show held on his birthday. “A little funky, a little trashy, and a little chic,” is how he describes his collection to WWD. Top models Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell walk for free. Funding comes in part from Perry Ellis International, as well as Jacobs’s own earnings from consulting gigs with Iceberg and the Japanese retailer Renown Look. August: Jacobs designs a one-off, rhinestone-studded version of his popular T-shirt dress for MTV’s new home-shopping venture, The Goods.November: Named Best Designer at the Venus of Fashion awards, held at New York club the Tunnel.
August: Signs licensing agreement with Gilmar for Marc Jacobs Look, a lower-priced bridge collection. October: Debuts Marc Jacobs Look in Milan with a video by filmmaker Mike Mills, styled by Daisy VonFurth of X-Girl. Consults on Renown Look’s Two: C line in Japan. Introduces a few menswear pieces at his womenswear show. December:Vogue takes a look at secondary lines introduced by Jacobs, Anna Sui, and others.
February: Featured, with fellow downtown designers Sui and Todd Oldham, on MTV’s Fashionably Loud rock ’n’ roll fashion special. February: Marc Jacobs Look hits stores. July: He is included in a Vogue roundup of “fashion’s new establishment.”December: The magazine pinpoints the trend for vintage and its influence on designers, including Jacobs, Sui, Christian Lacroix, and Jean Paul Gaultier.
January: After months of negotiations, assumes the newly created post of artistic director of Louis Vuitton, responsible not only for the luxury label’s leather goods but the creation of the house’s first clothing line for men and women. LVMH also takes a stake in Jacobs’s own label, allowing him the financial freedom to expand his business. Duffy is appointed studio director.February: Jacobs shares his vision for Louis Vuitton withVogue.August: First freestanding store opens on Mercer Street in SoHo; actress Julia Roberts is the first customer. November:The CFDA announces Jacobs has won Womenswear Designer of the Year.
March: Jacobs’s first collection for Louis Vuitton hits the runway. September: The line is featured in a Vogue fashion spread shot by Steven Meisel. “Vogue really supported me,” he will later say. “That picture meant a lot.”October: Named Womenswear Designer of the Year at the VH1 Fashion Awards.
March: Receives the CFDA award for Accessories Designer of the Year. April: Duffy and other close friends and colleagues convince Jacobs to seek treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. “I was a crazy person. I was working and partying, working and partying,” he will later tell Vanity Fair. “I kept looking over my shoulder and thinking, Well, this one does it, and that one does it, so I can, too. Because all designers are like that, and we’re creative people, and that’s how artists are.”
February:Vogue writer Sally Singer pens a profile of the transatlantic transplant. September: A diffusion line, Marc by Marc Jacobs, debuts for spring 2001 with clothes for both women and men. November:House & Garden features the designer’s vintage-modern tastes in his nineteenth-century apartment in Paris’s Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
August:Vogue beauty editor Amy Astley reviews Jacobs’s first fragrance, Gardenia. October: He is named Designer of the Year at the VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards. November: Profiled, along with his six lines, in Vogue.
February: Designs a yoga-mat bag for pal Christy Turlington’s Nuala line to benefit CancerCare. “I’m not a yogi, but I know the sun salutation,” Jacobs will later say. May: Jacobs and Duffy receive CancerCare’s Fashion Leadership Award. June:Named CFDA Menswear Designer of the Year. July: Honored with a plaque on the Fashion Walk of Fame in New York City’s Garment District.
June: Wins CFDA Accessories Designer of the Year.November: In a story highlighting the VH1/Vogue Fashion Superstars TV special, the magazine explores Jacobs’s influence on Hollywood’s hippest. December: He arrives dressed as a polar bear for his company’s annual holiday party.
April: Renews his contract with LVMH for another decade.May: Honored by his alma mater, Parsons School of Design.October: Fashion Group International honors Jacobs at its annual Night of Stars (rapper Lil’ Kim is his escort). November:He designs a lip-kissed holiday shopping bag for Bloomingdale’s.December: Marc Jacobs, a book by WWD chief fashion critic Bridget Foley, is published by Assouline.
Makes a cameo in the fragrance documentary Le Monde des Parfums. Appears in the Eric Le Seney documentary Louis Vuitton, Champs-Elysées, The Countdown, a look at the house’s preparations for the opening of its new flagship store. June:Again wins the CFDA award for best accessories designer.August: Launches a line of childrenswear called Little Marc.September: Featured as one of Vogue’s “Magnificent Seven” most innovative designers. October:Vogue writer Sarah Mower is offered a rare glimpse beyond the velvet curtain at Louis Vuitton and observes Jacobs’s elite design team at work.
January: The Marc Jacobs European flagship opens in Paris.February: Appears on Oprah. André Leon Talley, Vogue’s “Life With André” columnist, details a visit by Jacobs and model pal Naomi Campbell to Moscow. September: In the Vogue fashion and music supplement Fashion Rocks, Jacobs says one of his main inspirations is singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright. Poses with Duffy in the buff for Protect Your Largest Organ T-shirts, sold to benefit skin cancer. “We don’t put ourselves in the sex-symbol category,” Duffy quips to WWD.November:Jacobs’s ballet costume designs for Amoveo—set to the music of minimalist composer Philip Glass’s opus Einstein on the Beach—debut at the Opéra Garnier in Paris. December: He dons a giant pigeon suit for the company Christmas soiree.
March: Suffering a relapse, Jacobs checks into rehab the day after his Louis Vuitton show. May: Presented with the André Leon Talley Lifetime Achievement award at Savannah College of Art and Design. September: Poses nude on the cover of the gay monthly Out.October: Designs suits and luggage for the Wes Anderson film The Darjeeling Limited. In a nod to Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, with whom he has collaborated on designs for Louis Vuitton, Jacobs sports electric-blue hair at a gala hosted by the artist at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. November: Named Designer of the Year at the Accessories Council Excellence Awards. “Any opportunity to adorn oneself is human, and accessories are an easy way to do it,” Jacobs is quoted as saying. December: To this year’s Arabian Nights–themed company holiday bash, Jacobs goes as an enormous stuffed camel toe.
Joins Murakami on an episode of the TV series Art in Progress.January:Marc Jacobs & Louis Vuitton, a documentary by filmmaker Loïc Prigent, is screened in New York. June: A silver-haired Jacobs channels pop artist Andy Warhol on the cover ofInterview.September: Profiled in the New Yorker, shows off his newly lean form by posing in his underwear. Appears in the “Fashion Week to Die!” episode of the cable TV reality show The Rachel Zoe Project.
Appears in the Arielle Dombasle documentary La Traversée du Désir.March: Announces his engagement to Brazilian boyfriend Lorenzo Martone, an advertising executive. May:Vogue’s Hamish Bowles talks to Jacobs, the honorary chair of this month’s “Model as Muse” Costume Institute gala, about his favorite female inspirations. For the event, Jacobs swathes cohost Kate Moss in a custom Gloria Swanson–esque gold silk-lamé dress and turban. “Bespoke, made-to-measure Marc Jacobs for Kate Moss—Hollywood Boulevard, Kate Moss style,”The New York Times quotes him as saying. Inducted into the Fragrance Foundation’s Hall of Fame. June: For this year’s CFDA portrait, dons a pair of twisted black Louis Vuitton bunny ears. August: The Australian Centre for the Moving Image hosts “Marc Jacobs on Film.” Among the highlights is rare footage of Jacobs and one of his collaborators, the graffiti artist Stephen Sprouse, that aired on Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes in the eighties. Dresses Muppets diva Miss Piggy in a custom stone-studded, black taffeta evening gown for her appearance at Macy’s Glamorama party. October: Honored with the Pratt Institute’s Legends award.
January: Honored by French culture minister Frédéric Mitterrand as a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres for his contribution to fashion in his adopted-home country.February: Appears in the TV documentary The Red Carpet Issue.May: Named to Time’s list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. June: Named CFDA Womenswear Designer of the Year. Appears on an episode of the reality TV series The City.July: After earlier rumors that Jacobs had wed his longtime boyfriend, Martone tweets they are no longer together. Jacobs confirms, “No, I am not getting married.”To promote his new men’s fragrance, called Bang— “I like the sexual innuendo of it,” he says—poses nude, straddling an enormous bottle of the scent. September: Joins Anna Wintour for an appearance on the talk show Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.October: Sports a black Zorro mask and kilt on the red carpet at French Vogue’s ninetieth-anniversary celebration.November: In an interview with British Vogue, likens his relationship with his LVMH boss to that of the beloved children’s hero Babe the pig and his farmer owner. “Mr. Arnault does not express himself in a super-warm way, but he has softened up,” Jacobs tells the magazine. “I am that pig and he pats me on the back and says, ‘That’ll do, pig,’ and I just feel this is the highest praise.”December: The French Institute Alliance Française honors Jacobs with its 2010 FIAF Trophée des Arts for his contributions to fashion in his adopted-home city. As she introduces Jacobs to the crowd, Anna Wintour tells him, “I’d urge you to take a trip to China. Everywhere I went, I heard the same thing. ‘Ms. Wintour, do you know Marc Jacobs? Could you possibly get me Marc Jacobs’s autograph? A signed photograph?’ ”
January: Designs a yellow duckling for stuffed-toy maker Steiff. February: Collaborates with Playboy on three limited-edition tees sporting variations of its iconic bunny motif; 100 percent of profits benefit Designers Against AIDS. Spring: To celebrate ten years of the Marc by Marc Jacobs line, introduces Greatest Hits, a capsule collection of its best-selling pieces.April: Designs a limited-edition T-shirt in support of marriage equality efforts by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil-rights organization. “I pay my taxes, I want my RIGHTS!” the shirt reads. June: The CFDA honors Jacobs with its prestigious Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement award.