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Marc Jacobs Talks Beauty in Paris

A chat with the designer in advance of the European launch of Marc Jacobs Beauty, which hits stores on March 6.

PARIS — Marc Jacobs is back in Paris. He arrived on Wednesday and headed directly to the Sephora offices, where an afternoon of meetings preceded the party in celebration of the European launch of Marc Jacobs Beauty, which hits stores here on Thursday. The party also celebrated the line’s new ad campaign shot by David Sims and featuring Jessica Lange, with a video of the actress also shot by Sims.

This story first appeared in the February 28, 2014 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The designer plans to spend several weeks here, where he’ll have additional meetings with Sephora as well as with his fragrance partner Coty and LVMH Fashion Group chief executive officer Pierre-Yves Roussel and Jacobs’ long-time business partner Robert Duffy, who arrives in town next week. Jacobs took time out from his party guests for a conversation with WWD.

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As suited the occasion, beauty was foremost on his mind, although Jacobs addressed other matters as well. For those wondering what he’ll be doing on Wednesday at 10 a.m. when Nicolas Ghesquière makes his debut at Louis Vuitton, in typical fashion, Jacobs didn’t skirt the question. “Michael [Burke, Vuitton’s ceo] wrote me a lovely note inviting me to the show,” Jacobs said. “I wish nothing but the best for him [Ghesquière] and Vuitton. I expect it will be a very wonderful show and very different than what I’ve done.” He was also invited to Yves Saint Laurent by Hedi Slimane.

He doesn’t know yet if he’ll attend either show; he has reservations because of fear of being perceived as a different take on the front-row starlet du jour making the rounds. “I don’t want to be here for a week and hear, like, ‘Oh he was in front row of each show.’” The likely exception: Miu Miu, to which Jacobs has gone in the past “because it was after Vuitton. And to be honest, [Miuccia Prada] is who I want to see — you know how I feel about her. [Otherwise] to see shows, that’s not why I came here.”

He came to work. His postflight afternoon at Sephora was intense “in the positive sense,” Jacobs said. “They’re so ambitious about the plans for the expansion and where they’re going to take it. They’re such a great team, the Kendo team [Sephora’s private label operation].”

They discussed new products currently in the works and possibilities beyond those already planned. “They basically said, ‘We’ve had this excitement, we’ve had this kind of financial-reward indication of the customer coming back for the product, and indicators have shown that we have already surpassed our initial goals.’ So they’re very enthusiastic and already thinking — and thinking very big — how to expand [the line] outside the world of Sephora in terms of distribution and how to build the business. It became an in-depth conversation about different very successful cosmetic brands and how big a part the beauty plays in different fashion brands.”

Beauty will obviously play a major role in the Marc Jacobs brand’s preparation for an initial public offering. Jacobs stressed that those plans are still nascent, and that he, Duffy and LVMH must take sufficient time to establish a coherent plan. “It’s going to be a lot of thinking. There isn’t a quick solution,” he said. “We need to look at the big picture, and since just finishing the show we haven’t gotten to all sit together.”

Sitting around together is exactly how the Jessica Lange project happened. She and Jacobs — a major fan of the actress, particularly in the “American Horror Story” series — did a feature together for Katie Grand’s magazine Love. (Grand styles Jacobs’ shows.) The designer and actress hit it off, and he somehow got the idea that she was the person for his next beauty campaign. “We’ve set up the idea that, like with a lot of our shows, we should surprise and do something different,” he said. “What we’re going to give visually in terms of the print and image is not what you should expect but what inspires me, and that may come from different places. So we used Jessica.”

For the video, Jacobs wanted “just a subtle gesture and just a glimpse of her eyes moving with the camera moving in and out.”

Jacobs said he finds Lange’s voice “almost narcotic; I mean, in a wonderful way. I find it very soothing, very unsettling. I find there to be this beauty but almost a dark side.”

Indeed, those who attended Jacobs’ fall show heard Lange’s recitation of “Happy Days Are Here Again” — a melancholy, even mournful take on the Thirties anthem to better times ahead.

For the beauty project, Jacobs requested “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” He told Lange it was a very meaningful song to him in terms of “fashion on many different levels.” She told him it’s the song her mother had chosen to be played at her funeral.

They went for it, Lange speaking with the same cadence as on the show’s soundtrack.

“I wanted it to become almost a mantra, something without any sarcasm. For me, her voice has this calming effect,” he said.

And if both soundtracks have a dark side, Jacobs sees an underlying light in Lange’s soulful repetition. “It’s almost like, ‘I think I can, I think I can, I know I can,’” he mused. “Almost like a self-affirmation.”