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Marc Jacobs on Masturbation, Team Work and His Beauty Empire

Marc Jacobs Beauty is working on skin care.

“You can get off on it, but it’s really not much fun by yourself.”

Designer Marc Jacobs ended his interview at the Summit with a bang, likening the creative process without the business side — selling — to masturbation. “What I’m doing creatively — if it doesn’t get out there to people, if people don’t buy it, if they don’t want it or they don’t use it — sorry — it’s like masturbation,” Jacobs said.

Teamwork was one of the themes of Jacobs’ question-and-answer session, where he described partnering with other creatives, Kendo and businesspeople to build his brand — both in fashion and beauty.

While Marc Jacobs Beauty now has an estimated $200 million in sales, Jacobs said the creation of his beauty line was something of a surprise.

“When Robert Duffy, who is my business partner, said to me, ‘oh, there’s this meeting with Sephora and they’re interested in doing makeup.’ My reaction was like, ‘really? OK,'” Jacobs said.

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But now, almost five years after the launch of Marc Jacobs Beauty, mentions of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton-owned Kendo and Sephora have worked their way into Jacobs’ everyday work life, he said.

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“There isn’t a day of the week where we’re having a meeting with somebody in another area where I’m [not] using Kendo and the people at Sephora as an example,” Jacobs said. “It may be that we started with nothing and we created it from scratch so there was no baggage, but it really shows [that] when you have a passionate team who know about formula, who know about communication, who are interested in what you have to say and respectful of what you have to say and very excited by change and newness, what the results can be and what possibilities you have.”

For Marc Jacobs Beauty, the approach for product development has two sides. Jacobs receives suggestions on what the product line needs or what could be interesting to create from Kendo, but also puts forth suggestions for products he’d like to see, he said. He gave an example of collaboration, saying, “if you have a glitter, and you want the particles to be a certain size so they really sparkle, but they want to make sure people who wear that eye shadow don’t go blind because the particles get in their eye.”

As he spoke, Jacobs was still sporting a glitter eyeliner swatch from an afternoon makeup meeting. “There’s a certain amount of creative impulse and whim, and then there’s the responsibility and the passion.”

“Makeup is for people who enjoy creating their identities,” Jacobs said. “It isn’t based on [needing] to conform to somebody else’s standard of beauty. The openness and the idea of what beauty can be — it’s a palette of stuff you can use to be and make and say whatever you want.”

Embracing individuality has come instinctively to Jacobs, he said. “We’ve had everyone from Milk from ‘Ru Paul’s Drag Race’ doing something to Kaia Gerber,” Jacobs said. “We’ve been all over the place, but in a good way, where perhaps in the past being all over the place was not where you wanted to be.”

That idea ties into the company’s latest launch, Shameless Foundation, which comes in 29 shades. To promote the shade selection, Jacobs partnered with 29 models. “It was very important to have people of different ages and gender identities and obviously shades,” Jacobs said. “Without saying anything, you told the story of what Shameless is all about, which is being unapologetically you.”

Jacobs, who started his fashion line in the mid-Nineties, noted that curiosity is one of the things that helps him stay relevant.

“I’m really very insecure about this,” Jacobs said, asked about how he continually taps into and creates culture and style. “This is a constant fear of mine, is that we’re not relevant. That sometimes as a group of creative people, that we live a little bit in our bubble, and although we’re very aware of things that are going on, we can become a little insulated and think, ‘oh, this will be cool, that will be cool.’ We’re just so authentic to our whims and our instincts that I wonder how relevant it is outside of our bubble.”

“I always feel curious and I feel like there’s more to learn, but I think being relevant, feeling relevant — I personally always feel like there’s so much more to know, and maybe that’s the key,” Jacobs continues. “As long as you don’t feel satisfied that you know it all, you’ll always be open to the possibility of doing something else and something new.”

Today’s digital landscape is one thing Jacobs is working to embrace. He was admittedly late to the Instagram game, but has taken enthusiastically to the platform. “I was really against it for a while, and then one morning in my typical arbitrary fashion said like, ‘I think I’m going to join Instagram today,'” he said. “Now, I’m addicted to Instagram.”

While addicted, he remains skeptical of his personal account’s connection to business. “I always joke in the office that like when I post something and someone says, ‘oh, I love that, need, want, need want’ — I’m like, ‘well, the cash register hasn’t been ringing, but I know that everybody wants or needs it,'” Jacobs said. “So, I’m not really sure how much impact it has.”

In beauty, Jacobs doesn’t see the role of social media diminishing. While it may not be feasible for many consumers to spend $3,000 on a dress or $500 on a blouse, it is possible for them to purchase the $18 nail polish they may need or want, he noted.

Jacobs’ beauty business extends beyond Kendo to his fragrance license with Coty Inc., but both areas have projects in development. A new fragrance is in the works, Jacobs said, as is skin care as part of Marc Jacobs Beauty.

Like with most things Jacobs, those two projects will also be collaborative efforts.

“I do really love to be engaged in a creative dialogue,” Jacobs said. “Whether it’s with fragrance or if it’s with beauty, or if it’s bags or shoes, accessories, clothes — I do like to be part of it. And although I feel like it’s my choice ultimately to make, I do like participating in creative collaborations and I do think that’s perhaps the strength of the company and my strength and what has been responsible for some of our greatest successes.”