Byline: Vivian Infantino

NEW YORK – From grunge to glamour, Marc Jacobs takes delight in breaking the rules and making it work. The young designer (he’s in his 30s but has had enough up and down excitement in his career to satisfy someone twice his age) has caught the imagination of press, peers and customers since his graduation from Parsons in 1980, through his design years at Perry Ellis and up to the introduction last April of the first ready-to-wear line to carry his name.
Sporting his signature ponytail, Jacobs is dressed casually in a combination of street-smart and classic looks that play off his personality. A gray sweater and khaki pants are finished off with white socks and Dr. Martens. About his lace-ups, he admits he has been wearing them for two years. “But you have to buy them in Europe,” he says with a grin, adding, “they’re comfortable even though they’re ‘dirty,’ according to Oscar de la Renta.” That’s a little swipe at de la Renta, who doesn’t like grunge-footed fashions.
But Jacobs has taken a lot of flack from everyone in the fashion world for having put the official fashion imprimatur on grunge in his last collection for Perry Ellis in 1993. While everyone professed to be incensed about it, it had an effect on commercial fashion which many refuse to credit: the little flower prints, the mix and matches, the tough shoes with the soft dresses, and so on. In-the-know fashion people, however, credit Jacobs with an exceptionally prophetic eye.
And Jacobs survived the censure to go off on his own and present the first collection under his name to thunderous applause and store orders. About all of this he says, “I like doing clothes. It doesn’t matter whether it’s my name or a label, it’s just a lot of fun. I like designing. Labels are not an issue with me. Unfortunately, people feel the need to label everything.”
He believes, however, that every designer has his own vocabulary. His may come from the street, from the young, from the past but it has his own personal stamp. In former collections he was in step with the young who put clothes together in an offhand way. “And that’s still around,” he notes. But about his last collection he adds, “it had an edge of glamour, satin, rhinestones, jewelry, dusty colors, leather, accessories. The spirit changes from season to season, but you like the same things you always liked. Simple clothes. And simple doesn’t have to be minimal. It has an edge of familiarity. I like things that are somewhat classic.”
Jacobs nevertheless admits, “My definitions aren’t the same as someone else’s. But everything I do is classic.” Talking about his early days at Perry Ellis, he says he “flipped around trying to figure out what they wanted. At the end, I was doing what I wanted to do.” Now, he says, “I’m not creating career clothes or after-five. I’m just doing a collection. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s really strong.”
He is influenced by music (rock), by kids on the street, fashions of the past from the ’20s on. “I don’t do research but images are engraved in my mind,” he notes.
The iconoclast’s latest focus is on retro. “I love that word,” he says with a smile. “I’m so glad it’s being used again. It used to have a stigma. But I rememeber what Chanel said: ‘He who insists on his own creativity has no memory.'”
Jacobs doesn’t admire designers who put down yesterday’s fashions, who say they don’t look back. This quintessentially modern man asserts, “I love the honesty of looking backwards. I prefer the old fashioned to the new, home cooking to nouvelle cuisine.”
Quality in design doesn’t disappear over the years, he insists. About dresses from the ’30s, suits from the ’40s and shifts from the ’50s his comment is simply “they endure.”
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t inspired by the the past and the streets. I think retro is a great word … The future has a cold connotation. It’s fabric made in test tubes. The images I like are warm, not computer driven. I like the human element, handwork, classic kind of stuff.”
After graduating from Parsons Jacobs met Robert Duffy, who is now his partner. And through him he was hired “right out of school” to design a sportswear line. “I made my mistakes, but I like to do things myself. It’s no problem for me to work seven days a week, all hours of the night. I’m not a frustrated painter. I’m happy to be designing. I’m doing what I want to do. I really love fashion, frustrating and difficult as it is, it’s what I want to do. This is it.”
Jacobs began his own collection last April 9th, “my birthday.” A really good birthday present. “It was such a joy to do
it; I enjoyed making the clothes for the show,” he recalls. “And people liked it. I’ts important to please other people. Saying, ‘I did it for myself’ is bull____. We seek approval and respect in the industry. If they love it, it’s OK. It’s only when they don’t care it’s not so cool.”
And again Jacobs returns to the past, saying, “I’ve a feeling for retro. Not one period … maybe ’40s suits and cocktail dresses, ’70s two-piece dresses. It’s in my head. I’m just thinking of when people put themselves together.”
And he talks about using organzas and barathea. “Some fabrics are really old-fashions. But they’ve endured. The same cloth for a million years. The rest of the world is making it stretch. Stretch is interesting but I love Swiss voile; it’s beautiful. I like a variety – color, silhouette, proportion should not be all one note.” And in a ’70s mood he describes with glee a sequined-sort of material he’s using that is reminiscent of the flashing, mirrored lights of a disco.
Getting down to shoes, he explains the ones for his last collection – which caused quite a stir with their super spike heels – were made for him by Pantha Footwear. Now he’s working with Eglintine (Iris) in Italy, who is making a small collection of about five styles. He was surprised, he says, about all the requests he had for the shoes, mainly spiky heeled sandals and boots, designed for his last collection.
“I love working with shoes,” Jacobs continues. “You can start your collection with shoes. They are like characters, have a personality, are cartoony. A shoe can be a ‘Minnie Mouse’ or a ‘Cinderella slipper.’ They have such personality. They’re such a small thing there’s not a lot you can do. But the smallest little thing makes it great.”
For spring, he’s doing all high heels except for an oxford he calls a “jazz oxford.” There’s a disco sandal, fisherman sandal, spectators in patent, metallics and combinations such as silver and black patent.
“It’s kind of eclectic, pieces of this and that, a metallic ballroom effect put together in a spectator. It’s a fusion of grunge and glamour.”
Stores that buy the clothes will have the option to buy the shoes. But Jacobs, of course, has already made waves in the shoe world. At the same time he was designing a contempoary line of Perry Ellis footwear, he was coordinating footnotes from a diverse range of companies to do with his clothes. Justin (the Western bootmaker) made granny lace-up python, lizard and zebra boots and did novel flower inlays. Birkenstock made satin and metallic sandals (their classic) with rhinestone buckles. Converse got into the high-fashion act with satin All Stars.”
“Shoes are always an important accessory,” he notes. “If you figure out the shoes it helps to define the look or sensibility of the clothes.”
And Jacobs likes to play with fashion paradoxes or oxymorons. “The wrong shoe is better than the right shoe,” he says, thumbing his nose at the establishment. “It’s cowboy boots with dresses, gray flannel with sexy stilettos, grungy boots with a taffeta ballgown. It’s a young way to wear evening clothes. An evening Birkenstock. Ugly shoe, beautiful fabric. A contradiction of terms. The wrong shoe – for me – is always right.”

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