Backstage at Louis Vuitton, just before 2:30 P.M., the show’s scheduled start time, a bevy of flamboyant teens—all glitzed-out, feathered-up microminis and euphorically frizzed ponytails—is lined up atop supersculptural platforms in what masquerades as precision, chatting, twisting handbag straps and shifting their scant weight from one foot to the other. Aside from their impatient, girlish squirming, the scene plays as remarkably calm. Only makeup maestro extraordinaire Pat McGrath breaks the holding pattern with shouts of “No powder on the nose and chin!”
Marc Jacobs, the man whose name is, if not on the door, then the rock-star presence behind the name on the door, looks positively dapper, having ditched his recent uniform of a Comme des Garçons men’s skirt for a proper tailored suit. He strolls about coolly, silently flaunting his readiness to start the show while verbalizing the fact that he can’t just yet; he must wait for the biggest VIP of all, Bernard Arnault. “I want Mr. Arnault to say to me that he thinks that I did a great job,” Jacobs says later. “For so many years, all I wanted was a little bit of praise from him. Now I really get it, and it’s really great.”
Once Arnault takes his seat, the show starts. When it’s over, a breathless 13 or so minutes later, the LVMH chairman looks delighted. Ditto the larger audience, among whom one senses a communal sense of relief. On this final day of the spring 2009 collections, it’s up to a handful of big guns—Jacobs at Vuitton, Alber Elbaz at Lanvin and Miuccia Prada at Miu Miu—to salvage what must be characterized as a long, slow run of shows. Jacobs has done his part and then some, almost book-ending the season with spectacular efforts in New York with his own line, and here in Paris for Vuitton.
Eight days later, on a trip to New York, Jacobs settles into a banquette at the Mercer Hotel to discuss his brilliant twofer, but not before giving a rundown of his first few days in Gotham: a no-go decision to the hernia surgery he expected to have (he now must take it a bit easier at the gym); a Madonna concert (she made an impassioned plea for Obama); Elizabeth Peyton’s opening at The New Museum (“beautiful, beautiful show, and I was really happy to be there for her”); Equus (“a hard Saturday night. It was great but intense”), and the expected dining at Pastis and Da Silvano, all opportunities for people to lavish Jacobs with plaudits for his knockout season, praise he admits to basking in, if only briefly. “There’s this little tiny window of time that I get to enjoy any sort of positive feelings about the last show, because you’ve got to get involved in the next,” he says. “You’ve got to give yourself a cutoff.”
But these days, the stress of “the next” seems to agree with the designer, who looks fabulous, feels healthy and holds no animosity toward gossip mongers who chart his every possible move, including his love life. He calls current boyfriend Lorenzo Martone “the greatest, greatest, sweetest, nicest guy in the world,” and if blogs and tabloids chart their comings and goings, so be it. It’s not like they’re attempting to go incognito. “Celebrities and sometimes-celebrities sitting on the terrace at Pastis saying, ‘Don’t take my picture,’” Jacobs says with an incredulous look. “Well, then, don’t eat outside at Pastis, because that’s where the paparazzi are….It’s hard to believe somebody who is on stage doesn’t want to be noticed, and I mean a stage of any sort.” He finds himself content enough to riff seriously on that old get-high-on-life line: “I’m just actually completely high on doing and making and being in this role and enjoying it.”
And trying to keep perspective. Jacobs wonders whether the perception of his shows got a boost from the overall impression of a lackluster season. Though he altered his approach not a whit going into the dual design process, one thing was certain, he wasn’t feeling anything high-minded. “I just felt like I didn’t really want to be challenged intellectually by fashion,” he says. “I just wanted to see stuff. After a period where it feels like things are going too much in that modern direction, that it’s about cut and seam, I just felt like it was nice to be more demonstrative, to see things that you didn’t have to really think about. There was no stretch or challenge, it’s all really overt.”
Though no one would ever mistake Jacobs for a minimalist, last season’s New York show, with its grandly sculpted American sportswear motif, was as plain and undecorated an outing as he’s had since he introduced his now-famed cashmere thermals with gray flannel pants 11 years ago. And just as it lacked fall’s visual simplicity, the new collection also skirted the not-so-subliminal message of last spring’s Surrealist sexcapade romp. Ditto his Vuitton show, for which Jacobs played on various stereotypes of French chic without specifically studying any such references anew. “You have, in my case, 40 years of knowledge,” he says.
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