On Monday night, Marc Jacobs will receive the CFDA’s Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award. That will bring to 10 the number of CFDA Awards residing in the sleek glass display cases visitors see upon entering the reception area of his company headquarters on Spring Street — 11 if he also wins the award for Womenswear Designer of the Year.
If those of us of a certain fashion age wonder where the time went that turned New York’s seemingly perennial enfant brilliant into a figure of mature ubersuccess, we don’t wonder how it happened. Jacobs’ career is indeed one of dazzling achievement rooted in rare talent and a bottomless love of fashion. It has made for a thrilling, tumultuous narrative, one played out publicly over the course of a quarter century and filled with challenges, dramas, titillations, provocations and always, fabulous fashion. And oh yes, hard work. On Friday I visited Jacobs to chat about the honor, which he prefers to think of as a career-in-progress citation. On my way out at four o’clock, I asked about his plans for the holiday weekend. He looked as if I’d gone daft. “Memorial Day?” he asked. “I don’t think I’ve had a Memorial Day off in 30 years. We’re all here. The design team’s here, working through Saturday, Sunday, Monday. I’ll go to the gym every morning, but I’ll be here after the gym. It’s resort.”
Bridget Foley: So, Lifetime Achievement… Marc Jacobs: You can only imagine what I have to say about that.
B.F.: What was your first reaction? M.J.: You know how I am about the CFDA Awards and stuff like that. It’s a great honor and I think it means a lot to everybody here to be recognized by our peers. But when I think of Lifetime Achievement, the first thing that comes to my mind is some venerable actor who hasn’t been in a movie in 30 years whom the Academy is honoring; Lifetime Achievement seems quite final to me. I [prefer to look at it] as an “In-the-Process-of Award.”
It’s not my achievement, number one. It is Marc Jacobs as a company. As you know, that’s Robert [Duffy] and myself and Leslie [Clements, director of sales], and Kate [Waters, director of public relations] and the design team, Joseph [Carter, women’s design director] and all of the people in the stores and everybody who’s been here and been through this for all of these years. It’s Coty, it’s Iris with the shoes, it’s Safilo with the sunglasses. It’s every single thing that has helped to build this brand. That, I guess, is our achievement so far, but we’re not done. We want to continue to add to this.
B.F.: I don’t think I’ve ever heard you use the word brand before. M.J.: No, I probably haven’t. There are two words that seem to come up all the time right now and I wouldn’t [typically] use them: sustainability and brand. Everybody uses them and I think I’m probably a bit of a chimpanzee. Brand. I don’t think I’ve ever used that word before. But, again, the achievement is that Robert and I met many, many years ago and we’ve had many, many ups and downs — as you and everybody else have documented — we’ve had failures and we’ve had successes and we’ve had good ideas and ideas that maybe weren’t as good and as lucrative. So when you sit here and talk to me, I’m Marc, and when you talk about Marc Jacobs, it’s a company that a lot of people have helped to build.
B.F.: What was the hardest time you and Robert ever went through? M.J.: I think the hardest was when we were fired from Perry Ellis, because we’d had several failures: the Kashiyama thing went wrong, the Seventh Avenue Sketchbook thing went bankrupt, all of these things. At a certain point you think we want to keep going but have we just used up all of our get out of jail free cards? How much can we fight?
B.F.: Let’s talk about brand in reference to what it used to be: a company, a house, a label. Do you think that the word brand has taken some of the intimacy out of fashion? M.J.: I feel like a little bit of a cheat using it because I don’t really know if I feel like our company is a brand in actual fact. These past couple weeks I’ve had to do a lot of things regarding the CFDA in terms of interviews, etc. And I just had a meeting with Coty. They presented us with the position of Daisy Eau So Fresh and said we were the most successful flanker ever. Flanker is a new word for me, too.
B.F.: About fragrance branding, have you seen the Justin Bieber fragrance bottle? M.J.: Yes.
B.F.: Does it remind you of anything? M.J.: Yep, yep. We just had a conversation about it. Coty said, “Do we sue them?” and I said, “You know what? Let everyone else say what they want.” I received Google [Alerts] about people saying it was derivative. We’re not going to do anything about it.
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