It has been teased since December, most recently on Tuesday night when Marc Jacobs posted three new photographs to Instagram. Today, the designer’s new collection, THE Marc Jacobs, makes its debut at retail.
The launch marks a major milestone for the Jacobs brand. The timing seems perfect, Jacobs having put together a string of strong runway collections, including fall’s masterful outing, along with an interlude that fascinated across generations, in the form of resort 2019’s look-for-look redux of the seminal grunge collection he designed for Perry Ellis for spring 1993. That collection got the wheels turning for THE Marc Jacobs, which, for those familiar with the history of the designer and his brand, registers as something of a redux itself. Not in line-for-line reissues (although there is an archival component), but in its positioning both within the greater market, and within the Marc Jacobs brand itself.
“I want either a beautifully made version of a very simple thing or I want something very out there. That’s it, that’s what I like,” Jacobs said during a phone chat on Tuesday afternoon, describing his consumer approach to fashion.
The dichotomy applies as well to his long-standing vision of his work. He and his, longtime business partner Robert Duffy, with whom Jacobs launched the business, always believed in the validity of a striated product range. They wanted to do dazzling runway collections, “whatever they were, whatever price, no matter what, for whomever could enjoy them on whatever level.” They also wanted to make more accessible clothes that resonated with integrity and value at their own price level and were consistent with the Jacobs aesthetic and ethos. Enter Marc by Marc Jacobs. Cue a series of revisions and miscues. Exit Marc by Marc Jacobs. Sunrise, sunset…
THE Marc Jacobs is structured as was Marc by Marc when originally conceived — a collection of far-flung basics to mix and match with each other or whatever the heck suits one’s fancy. To that end, no season or delivery will be built on an underlying story premise. Rather, the campaign photography creates the story. Shot by Hugo Scott and styled by Lotta Volkova, the inaugural effort features various sets of twins, a lot charming and a little eerie, working a broad range of looks styled from the collection’s impressive range: girlish slipdresses over bi-color hose; vintage-y leopard-spotted coats over Forties-style dresses; sensible dirndl skirts paired to Peanuts sweatshirts, comfy-grunge-sweater-and-pants combos.
“We always believed that we wanted to make fashionable clothes at different price points, and we wanted to reach different people with them,” Jacobs said.
To his last point, Jacobs’ twins roster suggests success. But the returns aren’t in.
“I’m very excited about this launch,” Jacobs said, “and to see how people respond.”
WWD: The “THE” Marc Jacobs retail launch is here. Tell me about it.
Marc Jacobs: We’re launching online, on Madison [the brand’s Madison Avenue store], and in wholesale accounts [today]. We have a pop-up store opening in SoHo on Greene Street, on June 4, and then the party on June 12.
WWD: How did you structure the THE collection?
M.J.: I struggle [to describe it] a little bit. I won’t struggle with you because you know our history so it’s very easy to explain. Something that Robert Duffy and I have always believed in and always wanted to do, we wanted to do our runway collections, whatever they were, whatever price, no matter what, for whomever could enjoy them on whatever level. With basically no holds barred, right?
We also always believed that we wanted to make fashionable clothes at different price points, and we wanted to reach different people with them. We wanted to maintain the integrity and the creativity in all the things we did at any of those prices. So whether it’s [a runway dress] or a $25 flip-flop. This goes back in our history, I mean obviously, clearly referencing Marc by Marc and the Special Items that Robert did with his team inspired by the spirit of what we did.
So I think emotionally for me, first of all, THE is based on the idea of describing the item that it is. When we first started talking about this collection, we knew that would include collaborations and Special Items, for lack of a better word — key rings or compacts or T-shirts or sweatshirts or coffee mugs or archival things that we’ve brought back and recolored or changed, or a collaborative curated selection with Sofia Coppola [Sofia Loves], or whatever we could dream of that would range in price. Philosophically, this was going to be a renewal or a restart of all of these things that Robert and I encapsulated in early Marc by Marc and the Special Items.
WWD: This new structure: Runway, THE, Trade•Marc. It sounds like a direct parallel to Marc Jacobs, Marc by Marc, Special Items..
M.J.: Yes, yes, it is.
WWD: Is it an acknowledgment that maybe that original structure wasn’t such a bad thing?
M.J.: Well, I never thought the structure was such a bad thing.
WWD: I know you didn’t.
M.J.: I’m not going to point fingers or name names. But what we did, and we did very well, especially when it started and it was quote-unquote, unpolluted — theoretically, I think what we did was always the right thing for this company to be doing. And not because it was something that was marketable or that made a lot of money. That was good, of course, and it helped us to continue doing Runway and the things we wanted to do at that level. But it was more that this is what our belief was.
I love a designer coat over a pair of sweatpants. But I love the sweatpants to cost what the sweatpants cost. We’re not talking about cashmere sweatpants, we’re talking about cotton sweatpants with a print on them, or wearing flip-flops or canvas sneakers with an evening dress. I have always liked that aesthetic, and Robert has always supported that.
That was kind of what grunge was. Of course, all on a designer price level, but theoretically it was something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. And collaborations with Converse and Birkenstock, and things that we found in thrift shops that we remade in our way. It was things that we loved, things that inspired us.
That was a very long time ago collection, but it did have all of the bits of what in some way we’ve continued to do since then. And when we had this idea of Marc by Marc, it was originally just called Marc Jacobs and the Jacobs was blacked out. But it was very hard to report about that because you could say it but you couldn’t print it, and we couldn’t own the name Marc.
Originally, it was our theory, Robert’s and mine, that there was Marc Jacobs, then there was Marc and then there was MJ. And within those three things, we could collaborate with people on items of different price points. It would allow us to make things that were outside the realm of fashion, and each one of them would have their place. And we had all of these little stores, some of which would offer all of it and some which would offer specific parts of it.
It was a very loose concept but very easy to work with. Because it was very freeing to say, “we can make USB sticks, and we can make compacts, and we can make cashmere coats, and we can make evening dresses, and we can make shrunken denim jackets.” It just allowed us to do everything and kind of — what’s the word? — justify making anything and everything we wanted.
WWD: Is it exciting to come back to that now?
M.J.: It has never not been exciting. But what I think is particularly exciting now is that it just seems that hopefully, there’s an understanding, an appreciation of that [concept] that doesn’t need the explaining or the defending that it probably did when we started Marc by Marc.
I think we kind of proved a long time ago that it was valid. But it was valid in its conception. Again, I don’t want to play the blame game, but when department store merchandisers and product supervisors and everybody came in and decided that we should make this for this department store and that for that, it was no longer what we envisioned it to be. It was everybody adding what they wanted based on what somebody else was doing. That, of course, was a recipe for markdowns. Markdowns — no pun intended.
WWD: The press release lists what you’re offering in various categories — THE Clothes, THE Shoes, M•Archives. There’s so much there. Is it going to be a series of items from which a customer picks and chooses?
M.J.: That’s the intention. I think it might take a little bit of time to figure out how we break [the seasons]. Here, we’re still on that schedule of five seasons. Maybe when THE becomes up-and-rolling, there are five main deliveries but then also biweekly things and monthly things. That will rely heavily on what kind of online connection we have and what kind of production abilities, or the kind of pre-commitments to certain things.
Everybody dreams of having this new system or way of doing things, but that requires a bit of learning and a bit of trial and error. The base here is still two main collections a year for THE, which will offer a group of items, which will also include collaborations. The collaborations [in the launch collection] are Schott motorcycle and Peanuts and Porthault. There were a few in there.
WWD: Sofia. Stutterheim. New York Magazine. Stephen Jones.
M.J.: Yes. So there were several in there. And then we will also do this Trade•Marc which, again, I don’t think needs to be two [seasons]. It can be something new every month. But it’s very hard to break out of the rigidity of how these markets are set up. Until there’s a different system of selling and a different system of production and a different system of distribution, unless it’s just that there’s stuff available monthly that’s only available online.
Again, I don’t know about online selling. I have never bought anything online, so it’s a little foreign to me. But I know that we are going to great lengths and we are working with some really fantastic people on changing what I call “the web store,” and trying to make that an easy thing to — what is [the word]? I don’t even know the words that all those people use…Navigate?
M.J.: Not a word I’d normally use, but an easy thing to navigate. And also something that offers an experience that I guess people who shop online look for.
WWD: The clothes themselves — two primary seasons, but item driven?
M.J.: The collections are comprised of items. It’s not a collection where there’s an undercurrent of one thing that permeates everything. It’s a group of items that can be worn together as we’ve styled them or taken apart and worn individually. That’s what I mean by items. That eclectic feeling of putting things together was a part of the early days of Marc by Marc, when I loved it. You had like a jeans skirt and a more democratically priced designer jacket that emulated the spirit of what we did in collection.
WWD: The press release lists so many items — THE blouse, THE romantic blouse, THE men’s shirt, THE thermal. I imagine many will carry through from one season to the next.
M.J.: Yes. So “THE” became a device to talk about an item, sometimes a generic thing like THE blouse. We’ve always had a blouse in a collection, we’ve always had a hoodie. And then it gets more specific, like THE Forties dress. We’ve always had a Forties-style dress, which you could call the grunge. It’s one of the things we’ve revisited every season. So it could be long-sleeve, short-sleeve, printed, not printed, it could be embroidered, longer, shorter, whatever. There’s a placeholder for that item we’ve always loved. So yes, some things will carry over because most things we do carry over in some way. And then some things will be just repeated, more driven by people’s reception, the customer’s reception to it.
We stand behind certain things. And there are times, if the customer decides they want [an item] again and again and again, then we know how to continue to refresh it and give it to them again without it becoming [boring].
WWD: Tell me about the collaborations. Are they all one-season collaborations?
M.J.: We will continue the Schott collaboration [Schott x Marc Jacobs]. Schott is a great collaborator who I really love. I mean, they’ve made the perfect motorcycle jacket, you can’t get more authentic than that. They are willing and happy to collaborate or continue to collaborate with us when we want a motorcycle jacket with some authenticity or something derived from that. So I think that’s one thing. The Sofia Loves is an ongoing thing which she will curate. She curates basically from her closet, the things she’s bought and loved over the years.
WWD: How many items a season will you do from Sofia?
M.J:. It depends. Again, the idea is not to make something so rigid with this; it’s to allow freedom. It’s what she loves [at a given moment]. What was so beautiful again about Marc by Marc in the beginning, and sorry to harp on it, was that it was instinctive. We went with our instincts and allowed ourselves the freedom to do what we wanted, not get dictated to by a bunch of rigid ideas about what marketing and production and everything needed to be or should be, quote/unquote.
WWD: How did you come up with this list of collaborators?
M.J.: The collaborations were based on things we wanted to make. I love the idea of that Morton Salt Girl raincoat. Stutterheim, they make a great little A-line raincoat. And I said, “let’s not do that [ourselves]. Let’s go to the people who do that, and work with them and make that ours.”
The same thing with the motorcycle jacket. Who would the best person be to go to? Schott. [The inaugural THE version is pink.] We wanted to do these vintage-looking Peanut sweatshirts. Well then, we need to collaborate with Peanuts and so on and so forth. And then for the Marc Jacobs New York logo, we were inspired by Milton Glaser’s New York Magazine logo, so we went to him.
WWD: What about D. Porthault?
M.J.: Porthault has done all my table linens and all my sheets since I moved to Paris and Lee Radziwill recommended I work with them. She turned me onto them and I’ve had this affair with them ever since.
And then Olympia [Le-Tan] was like, “I love their prints.” We were talking about doing boudoir-inspired pieces, and she had this idea of asking if we could use their prints. And Porthault Europe (Porthault America, I think, was a different thing) was very, very excited by it and they allowed us to use their archive prints. They told us the story behind each one. We enlarged them and changed them a little bit to suit the pieces we were making, all with their approval.
WWD: And obviously, you worked with [milliner] Stephen Jones for years starting in 2001. Which collection was that?
M.J.: I don’t know what collection was 2001. We can find out. What collection was 2001? Quick, somebody!
WWD: Will the collaborations commingle or are they all separate? I know there’s a Snoopy charm on the Schott jacket.
M.J.: They’re all pretty separate. What happened [with the jacket ] was we developed this really cute little Snoopy charm, and when we had this pink leather motorcycle jacket with the logo lining, I was like, “we should just hang a charm off the zipper pull,” which is not something that I haven’t seen before.
I remember back in the days of St. Mark’s Place, during the punk scene, when everybody wore motorcycle jackets, people would put either a rabbit’s foot or a charm at the end of the zipper. Like a jeans jacket, I’ve always felt a motorcycle jacket is like a blank canvas for one to customize.
WWD: Will the collaborations have separate labels?
M.J.: They all have labels that mark the collaboration. [With the exception of Sofia Loves, the format is New York Magazine x Marc Jacobs, D. Schott x Marc Jacobs, etc.] So we created a little bit of a vocabulary. Peter Miles [the art director] who we collaborated with for our logo and has worked with us for ages, recently updated our logo, made it thicker and bolder, etc. Peter’s a great guy and he’s part of the family, I would say.
So Peter and I worked on this and it was actually a little bit through Peter that we came up with this device of “THE.” Because what we had on the boards were our constant inspirations, the people that inspire us constantly, and their items of clothing that are things we always look back at. So for this meeting we had way back in the beginning of this conversation, we labeled everything, “the thermal sweatshirt, Marc Jacobs,” or “the collaboration hoodie, Marc Jacobs,” or “the Forties dress” or “the nightie, Marc Jacobs,” or “the skinny jean, Marc Jacobs” or whatever.
So it became a device. And then when we were trying to think of a name, we were just like, well it will be “ ‘THE and the item,’ ‘THE and the description or name of the collaboration.’ That’s the way we’ll talk about it.”
WWD: Do you have new collaborations lined up for the next collection?
M.J.: A couple of things. There is one artist, Magda Archer. She did these things we saw on Instagram, and we were all very amused and really loved them. They were quite naughty, very sweet-looking but they had like a punky sensibility to them. There is another Schott x Marx Jacobs, and a K-Way collaboration as well. And Sofia is certainly there.
WWD: The M•Archives section. How did you decide which pieces to bring back? Some seem very obvious — the Smiley Sweater, the Mouse Shoe.
M.J.: Again, it’s instinctive, there isn’t a set thing. When we’re putting things together, we’re like, “Oh, we should pull out that print again because it just feels like something that looks right.” Or we pulled out a tweed jacket from a long time ago. We were like, “Wow, that was a good jacket, let’s look at it again and refresh it.”
So you make certain tweaks to things to refresh them. Even with grunge, we had to make corrections. People’s bodies change and the times change. What looked short doesn’t look short anymore; what looked long doesn’t look long anymore. One’s eye adjusts. So even what someone perceives as being identical to something they saw in the past, has actually been remade and updated.
WWD: I love that M•Archives includes vintage pieces that are not your own, that are found items. What made you decide to do that?
M.J.: It seems very honest. One of the things I loved and so respected about Maison Margiela, was when they would do reproductions of things — I can’t remember what they called them; there was a label that they had for it. It would state on the label that this was taken from a flea market find. And it wasn’t tampered with.
We all look at flea markets, we all go online and look at vintage clothes, we all buy things for inspiration. Sometimes they are just inspiration, they’re just the start of something that ends up completely different. Other times we’re like, “Wow, wouldn’t it be great to be able to reproduce this in different sizes so that more people could enjoy this thing that we love?”
WWD: Are you at all concerned about someone accusing you of pilfering intellectual property?
M.J.: They might. I have always gladly given someone credit for what they’ve done. That’s such a weird subject right now, with all of this cancel culture and people coming at other people for doing something. But I always go back to that Chanel quote, which I always misquote, which is that he who insists on his own creativity has no memory. [“Only those with no memory insist on their originality.”]
I want to credit. For the past few seasons, you even listed the designers specifically whose work inspired that particular season. I’m very sensitive to the idea that giving credit where credit is due is [essential]. I feel it, too. There are things that I’ve done at Vuitton that have been redone. It’s not that I’m angry when I don’t get just credit, but I love when I am appreciated or somebody does recognize that it was something that I did, that I started, that I brought into Vuitton. So I understand how that works. I empathize in terms of all of that. If something [here] doesn’t get the credit, it’s an oversight — it’s not trying to get over.
WWD: I want to talk a little bit about the release for the THE launch. There’s very emotional language in it, which I understand you dictated. “THE explores indulgences in and acts on our whims, instincts, loves.” “THE reissues, revisits, redefines.” “THE explores the past and looks forward and is now.” It sounds so much like you and your relationship to fashion.
M.J:. Well it is, it is. I don’t want to use this word either, so I apologize. Some people said, “Oh, this is the manifesto.” But it’s not. It was just a string of thoughts which people can interpret however they want. I think they read very clearly, but only to people who have been there from kind of the beginning.
If you think about a new customer or a new person who doesn’t know Marc Jacobs, who has never heard of Marc Jacobs or has not been a part of this journey that Robert and I have been on for 30 years, I don’t know that the words read with the same intent that I had. But I felt that there are still statements about what THE is.
I wanted to make random statements about a practice of putting together items of clothing of things that were fashionable that I love, that we love, that we revisit, that allow for all of the things that have always been a part of our vocabulary.
WWD: “THE is a reminder of things that continue to inspire us for their honesty, authenticity and integrity.” It seems to me that being touched by that statement depends less upon knowing your history than upon buying into the emotional power of fashion.
M.J.: This is a very big subject right now. I’ve said it and I’ve gotten hell for it before, like, I don’t know what people want. I know what I like. I know I like to go shopping and I know I like to walk into a store and I know that I want either a beautifully made version of a very simple thing or I want something very out there. That’s it, that’s what I like.
I am a shopper and I love fashion. I love it in different ways and from different places. I like to mix different prices and different things. I love things that have the authenticity and integrity not only of price but of design and of material and of the thought behind them. That’s what I love. That’s how the people who I feel have great style dress. That’s never changed.
But when we get into a discussion about Gen Z or Gen whatever, I don’t even know the letters anymore. I’m doing this the same way we’ve always done it. We are working on something that feels right to us. The thing that has given us the best results is trusting our instincts. Whether our instincts are timely or whether they speak to someone who is the customer today, I don’t know. That’s something that we’ll have to find out.
I don’t know how to do this any other way. It’s interesting. Katie Grand has styled and worked with me for many, many years on collections both at Vuitton and here. When we started doing THE, I asked her what she thought about who could work with us on it, and would she be interested or whatever. She recommended Lotta Volkova.
Katie’s point was maybe it’s good to not work with the people you worked with in the past, but to work with new people who have a different point of view and who also can come in and look at the work you’ve done with a different eye and a different appreciation. And that’s proven to be very, very helpful. It stimulated everyone.
WWD: Were you nervous about bringing in someone new?
M.J.: It’s the opposite. I was very excited because I know her editorial work and the outside of what her work was like with Demna [Gvasalia] ] at Balenciaga. And I know that she is very close to [photographer] Hugo Scott, who has worked with us for years. I just felt very confident that it was exciting.
You know, you could always substitute the word “exciting” for “fear.” I’m always worried about everything. I’m a constant worrier, and I’m always in fear. But my therapist has said, “just replace the word fear with excitement because it is the same feeling.” One is this impending sense of doom, or “it won’t work out.” But excitement is that there is change going on and you’re reacting to it.
WWD: What are you the most, not fearful of, but most excited about right now?
M.J.: I’m very excited about this launch and to see how people respond. I am excited to get it out there and to communicate it. I’m excited to show these pictures that Lotta and Hugo did together, this visual communication of what it’s about. That’s very important.
People respond to visuals. You can talk and talk and talk and they can read and read and read. But people don’t read and people don’t listen. They want to see something that they’re seduced by. And if they’re seduced by it, then maybe you have the opportunity to open a conversation or educate, or they’re open to learning. But before that can happen, they need to be seduced by what they see.
WWD: It’s always good to end with seduction. Thank you, Marc.
Watch: Bridget Foley’s Guide to Fall 2019 Fashion From NYFW