Gearing up for Marc Jacobs autumn/winter 14 show tonight, we look back to The Wealth Issue, September 2006 and i-D's interview with a true design genius. This happened in the wake of his most talked-about work since the controversial, era-defining ‘Grunge’ collection at Perry Ellis. We talked drug addiction, disco dancing, dogs, diets and Lil Kim at his Louis Vuitton HQ in Paris...
You look amazing at the moment. Are you on a diet? Come on, tell me…
I wasn’t on a diet to lose weight, it’s because I have terrible problems with my intestine and my stomach digestion. Although, I was hoping that by being on the diet I would lose weight.
I just cut out dairy and wheat as of two weeks ago.
Oh, well, I don’t eat that either. I don’t eat dairy and wheat, I don’t eat sugar, caffeine, dairy, wheat, almost nothing.
I’m finding it really hard. What did you have for breakfast?
I have either half a cup of oatmeal, made with water, or I have green vegetable juice with two egg whites. I know. What I had for breakfast this morning was green vegetable juice.
So what do you eat for lunch and dinner?
For lunch, I usually have a miso soup with buck-wheat noodles and dinner I have a piece of grilled or boiled fish, like salmon with a small portion of basmati rice and a small portion of pureed green vegetable.
Aren’t you hungry all the time?
All the time! I drink a lot of water, and I have organic peppermint tea after each meal to help my stomach, and I take a ton of supplements. I have to take this fibre powder in the morning. Oooh, in fact, I wonder what time it is… Oh it’s ok. At eleven o’clock I take this supplement, at 12.30 I have to take three other kind of potions and then with lunch I take a Slippery Elm, Cat’s Claw, Omega-3; tons and tons of vitamins.
Can you notice the difference with your stomach?
No. That's the thing. I've been on it for, like, seven weeks. I spoke to the nutritionist and the herbalist - the results aren't so good. So I'm a bit discouraged, but I'm sticking to it anyway, because as a side effect I have lost a lot of wieght.
I used to love eating McDonalds and KFC.
You know, I used to live on all that crap. I love it, but I had this problem and it turned really severe a couple of years ago. So I went to the doctor’s and was diagnosed with Colitis, so I was on medication and eating much better. I wasn’t eating salt and I wasn’t drinking caffeine and I wasn’t drinking soda and all this kind of other stuff, but I was still having an occasional piece of bread. I was having cookies at lunch if I wanted, but I would eat like three rather than the whole packet. So after speaking to many of my friends who are also very severe with their diets, they said ‘why don’t you try a different route, try something natural?’ So I thought what the hell, nothing else was working. So I’ve been on this for a while.
It’s almost like unless you eat organic food you are labelled a bad person.
All the food I’m eating is bio. I thought I would be much hungrier than I am, but that’s because I haven’t given up smoking. I mean, I did give it up for a while, but then when I spoke to the nutritionist I told him ‘I can’t eat like this and not smoke’, but eventually I’d like to give cigarettes up too.
Do you ever drink?
No, no, not really. I just recently went to a Vogue dinner here, for Carine Roitfeld, and I guess it was the first time I had been out in a couple of weeks. I mean, I’ve gone out in New York recently, more than I ever have in the past five years, but I just drink water and smoke. I mean it’s hard to do that in New York. You have to go out of the club to smoke, or there’s a couple of clubs where you can smoke even though you’re not supposed to that will remain nameless. But at this dinner, I ate before because I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat what they were serving. So I had dinner at home, early.
Do you make dinner yourself?
No, I don’t. I mean, I don’t think I’d be able to be as compliant to this diet or disciplined if I had to make it myself.
You know actually, I’m not very good at cooking.
There’s not very much on this diet to cook, that’s the thing. I probably could do it myself but it’s the time to shop I mean, if you want fresh vegetables… I’ve been cutting it. It seems to be just getting shorter and shorter. I go through this thing every once in a while, and cut my hair off. I go through a whole age crisis thing, I don’t want to be forty three years old with a ponytail, you know?
Exactly. Your hair looks nice. Did you get it cut recently?
I've been cutting it. It seems to be just getting shorter and shorter. I go through this though this thing every once in a while and cut my hair off. I go through a whole age crisis thing, I don't want to be forty three years old with a ponytail, you know?
Have you ever tried acupuncture?
No, I mean, I've tried it. I was thinking of doing it again but I've been going to the gym lately, I used to go to the gym ages ago, when I was younger, but I’ve just rejoined so I’ve been doing that for about six weeks as well.
What do you wear when you’re working out?
Oh, just some big, old, baggy, Adidas blue shorts and a grey T-shirt. But I don’t like the scene at the gym. I just like going and doing my exercise. I’d be really intimidated by the changing rooms and the buff bodies. I always think that too. I have terrible insecurities about all that stuff, I find it really uncomfortable and awkward, but, you know, I go really early in the morning so there are only a few businessmen there and they’re not interested in me, and I’m not interested in them, so that eliminates all of that. I have that kind of problem, even for massages, I always feel really self-conscious taking off my T-shirt.
It’s like, ‘oh, no! I’ve got a spot on my shoulder! Someone’s going to see it.’
Exactly. I mean, I've been like this all my life, i doubt I'll ever change. I go through this with my therapist and they just say ‘get in touch with where it began’ but it just feels like… it’s the way I am! With therapy, I’d say one out of five times I leave their office, I think ‘I’m not doing this anymore, it’s not doing anything for me’. And then the next week, I’m right there again. I know it’s not hurting me but I don’t see the benefits, but because it’s not hurting me, I keep doing it.
Who are you seeing at the moment?
I’m not going to even go into that.
Fair enough. So, are you happy at the moment?
Happy is another question. I’m not sure I’m very happy at the moment but I am seeing someone.
Do you find relationships difficult?
I find relationships very difficult.
Is that because of your status?
I think it’s because a) the kind of people I’m attracted to. I’m always interested in someone who’s not really like me. But, I don’t know, people who are nice to me or who want to do everything I want to do… I get a little bored. I think they’re too nice, and whatever, too boring. Yet when people are so different and so opposite – which is what I’m attracted to – I get frustrated that they’re never available or they don’t want to do what I want to do. When I want to go to bed they don’t, or they go out all the time, or when I want to go to a gallery and they’re not into art, they’re into pop culture. I kind of wish it would change but I don’t know that it ever will.
“I love imperfection, everything gets much more interesting and beautiful.”
People always talk about your partying days and Studio 54. Do you miss that whole crazy/drugs/clubbing time?
I don’t romanticise. Like this guy I’m seeing in New York, he’s much younger than I am, and he loves it, he loves it! He loves to go out every night and he loves to be around celebrities and all that stuff. I’ve done all of that, and the thing is I can enjoy it, but I feel very detached from the whole scene. I can’t function the next day. I have other priorities in life.
Well, I like to come to work and I like to do things. I don’t like to lose a day and no, I don’t miss hangovers. I don’t miss waiting around for dealers and having apartments full of crazy people doing crazy things. I did it all and I did it to absolute extremes. I mean I successfully survived it. I went as far as I could to the edge of the cliff.
What was the turning point?
My business partner is one of three people who probably cares more about me than anyone in my life has ever cared. He just got tired of listening to the excuses and the bullshit. I was falling asleep at work, I was setting blankets on fire falling asleep with a cigarette, and I ended up in the emergency room. All sorts of chaotic things – shit happens when you are fucked up. I wasn’t dancing on speakers, it wasn’t like I was out at Studio 54 partying and having a great time. It wasn’t all fun, drinking and going out.
How do you feel about Pete Doherty?
Addiction is addiction, and when you are addicted to drugs you are addicted to drugs and there is very little you can do about it. He’s someone who people love and you know some of my greatest heroes are drug addicts too. I mean not because they are drug addicts, but I don’t know if the drugs are necessary to be a creative genius, but they seem to go romantically hand in hand, and there is this kind of fallen angel aspect.
I really like chaos and mistakes.
Oh yeah, so do I, absolutely – broken noses, chipped teeth. I mean I love all that stuff too. I love imperfection, everything gets much more interesting and beautiful.
Do you ever get bored of splitting your time between New York and Paris?
I continue to love Paris because I live in New York and I continue to be able to survive in New York because I live in Paris. I was born and raised in New York, and the energy in New York is so full on, it’s non-stop. If I’m alone for five minutes in New York I feel like a failure, but if I had that same five minutes alone in Paris I would feel successful. It’s like in New York, if nobody’s called me for five minutes I start thinking ‘I should be going to this gallery opening, I should be going to the theatre, I should be seeing the ballet, I should be doing this or that and why hasn’t whoever called me? Why am I eating dinner by myself?’ I mean, actually, I really enjoy eating dinner by myself most times! It’s difficult when I go to New York, because I always miss my dogs and feel very guilty about sending them away to the breeder. I just get this feeling that they’re looking at me like, ‘why are you sending us away? What did we do?’
What are their names?
Alfred and Daisy. They’re both Bull Terriers.
I love animals. Your last collections for Marc and Vuitton were so amazing, do you feel under pressure to maintain that consistently high level?
And I don’t think it will ever be that amazing again. I can’t plan what’s going to be good and what isn’t. It wasn’t until the last minute when we were putting together the show that there was this like spontaneity and this random assembly of clothes.
Do you find that’s often the way – that towards the end you flip an idea?
When you have a very strong concept in the beginning then you really can’t flip because it is just too co-ordinated.
I felt like with the recent collections there were loads of humour. It just seemed really young, fun and hip hop.
We did have a good time. If I really think about it, the week before the show I was just horrified, terrified! It was just like ‘oh my God how’s it ever going to come together and what are we going to show and what’s it going to be?’ The thing is when I catch myself thinking like that, I sort of take a minute and think that even if I don’t know what the results will be, I know that the elements going into it are great. I think it is just the way I am wired. I’m just a natural worrier.
It’s difficult, isn’t it, when you want to be perfect each time?
I don’t want to be perfect; I just want to get to something that seems like I can let it go. Perfect is never going to happen; I’m never going to achieve perfection.
For a while everyone on the high street ripped off Marc Jacobs. Was it intentional this season to make things more difficult to translate? The shoes are bordering on ugly.
It was never the intention to make something ugly (laughs). I had been looking at these boots by Stephen Sprouse that had these Velcro tabs. I liked the idea of something heavier and I just thought that there needed to be something more urban and sturdy again. We also looked at ski boots, because we liked the idea of something a bit more sporty and utility based, and we looked at Manga so it wasn’t referential.
Do you scrap all the ideas from season to season or do you try to continue on a theme?
Some designers are very focused and evolve their singular thought, this very strong voice. I think one of the best examples is Azzedine Alaïa – he never really veers from it. I mean I’m certainly A.D.D. but I think what we kind of love about fashion and hate about fashion is the change aspect. So you look at what you’ve done and what you want to tweak and change and evolve. I think that the Spring/Summer was so sexy and short and was this homage to Gianni Versace then Fall was quite a different vibe. I never mind these huge mood swings, but again sometimes you’re praised for it and sometimes you’re criticised for it. And I do understand where the criticism comes from when you have a bunch of women all of a sudden wearing stiletto heels and bright coloured mini dresses with tons of buckles and then they go in and see an enormous pair of tweed pants and a very long sweater in wool, they’re like, ‘wait a second, what’s with the ski boots and the Velcro clips?’ But, you know, that’s fashion, and you can’t please everybody all of the time. Anyway, at Vuitton, I think our consistent focus is on the bags.
How do you feel about all the fake bags?
Well, this is a very touchy subject because I personally am flattered when people counterfeit. I shouldn’t say that. Strike that. I am very flattered when people copy, but the policy of this company is that counterfeiting is wrong. It’s against the law.
Can you tell when someone’s carrying a fake?
Pretty much. There are some very good fakes. My attitude is that if I want a Rolls Royce, I would never by a Volkswagen that looked like a Rolls Royce. I would never buy a fake Rolex if I could afford a real one. I wouldn’t buy a fake Rolex. Period. Because I would rather have a real Timex than a fake Rolex. It’s just my nature, but other people don’t mind and I think, for them, it’s fine. It’s not like you really lose a customer. The woman who wants a real Vuitton bag is going to buy it, even if she can’t afford it.
When designing the bags, do you ever think, ‘this one is going to be copied’?
It’s inevitable. The biggest shock was the Sprouse one, because every market stall had bags with random words written on them in Stephen’s graffiti. We had the biggest laugh here. Once, someone sent us the cover of some British paper with Posh Spice on the cover. And she was holding a bag. I mean she is a big fashion addict so she was holding this bag by Steven Sprouse but it wasn’t a real Vuitton - it was a fake. We all knew it was a fake, we could see, it was so obvious. So we immediately sent her a bag, with a note that said ‘we thought you should have the real thing.’ I’m sure Victoria Beckham, given her preference, would have bought the real bag. But you know we get things like that all the time, people e-mail us stuff like Murakami-print motorcycles, even wedding cakes!
My mum bought one of the fake Murakami Vuitton bags, for fifty quid in Bethnal Green, and she loves it.
Well that’s great. But every time that I’ve said something like this in the press I’ve gotten my hand slapped. I’m not supporting counterfeiting but I think if your mom’s satisfied with her bag then that’s a wonderful thing, but again I think counterfeiting is wrong and it shouldn’t happen and it’s illegal.
Have you heard from Lil Kim since she was released?
How is she?
Well, I guess she’s ok. I was invited to her surprise birthday party at her house last night but obviously I’m not there so I couldn’t go, so I sent her a huge bouquet of flowers and a note. But I have received some very nice mail from her she sent me from prison. This is what I received from her a week ago.
(Marc walks to his cabinet and pulls out two letters complete with self-portraits by Lil Kim) Oh my God.
I know I’m going to get them framed.
“I was falling asleep at work, I was setting blankets on fire falling asleep with a cigarette, and I ended up in the emergency room. All sorts of chaotic things – shit happens when you are fucked up.”
You should print them on T-shirts. I wrote to her in prison too! How did you first meet?
In the studio, we all listen to her music and we all love her. Then one season I found out that she was coming to the show. I mean I don’t ask who’s coming, I don’t get involved in the whole invitation or press thing or whatever. But Scott from the press office knows that we love Kim. There had been seasons where they said Missy is coming and then she never came and so I was just like, ok, the one thing you have to promise me is that after the show if Kim comes, I want to meet her. So Kim came backstage and I said ‘I’m so thrilled to meet you, you’re the greatest and blah blah blah.’ And we kind of became friends from that point on. She came to every show afterwards and then I received some accessories award and she presented it to me, and then I invited her to a Met dinner as my date. She performed after my show just seven days before going to prison.
Wow – she’s so amazing.
Yeah, she is, and she is such a sweetheart. I’m planning to throw her a ‘Welcome Home’ party, but I think she’s still on house arrest. That’s good for her, though. I’m sure she needs the time to get her weave and nails did. Oh yeah, don’t worry she’ll have it all under control. I’m sure by the time this house arrest is over Lil Kim will be like Lil Kim again – she loves all that stuff.
What’s your favourite Lil Kim track?
Probably The Jump Off.
Sorry, it’s all about Queen Bitch and Whoa. The last album was beyond.
Everybody loves that song. I like the whole album, I feel so fortunate because of what I do. I get to meet a lot of people that I want to meet. I’m not like a celebrity stalker or anything like that, it’s just nice if you get the opportunity to meet people you admire.
What other celebrities would you like to dress?
I’m not a good self-promoter so I’m always thrilled when someone likes what we do whether it’s at Vuitton or Marc Jacobs. I’m really, really happy when it’s someone I like, or someone I’m interested in, or admire, or respect. I don’t really think my clothes are Lil Kim’s taste but she’ll always find something and she’ll make it work for her, which is very sweet.
Seeing Kim in the window at your New York store was amazing.
Our windows have become an institution. We did Lil Kim and then we did a thing with Debbie Harry. They were $20 T-shirts to raise money for charity and you go on eBay and the Debbie one is for sale for $600. When Lil Kim was in prison Debbie emailed me and she said that she’d written a song for Kim called Down And Dirty so I hooked them up.
I wore my Marc Jacobs Lil Kim tee the day she was released. I represented for the Queen.
Good boy… I’ll be sure to let her know.
Who are your favourite new supermodels?
When I think of supermodels, I think of a very specific group of girls – Naomi, Linda and Christy. Those are supermodels. I mean there have been popular models like Daria or Stam. But I remember when I worked with Christy and Naomi and Linda, it wasn’t just because they were everywhere and they were gorgeous girls, it was also the life and the energy and the partying that went along with it. They were like celebrities. I don’t think that any of the girls today have that. I mean Kate was the last supermodel and is still.
Who’s your favourite model of all time?
I can’t really choose one. I think one of my favourite models is Christy Turlington. I’ve just always loved her – she’s just sweet and I think she managed to escape all of it in a nice way. She also did something very endearing which will always make her very close to my heart. She told me the last runway show she would do was mine if I ever started my own company. And she kept her word. She flew in from San Francisco, she did my show, and she never did another one after that. Kate and Naomi have also been great, great, great friends of mine. I love them and I continue to work with them so I’d really have to say that it’d be Kate, Naomi and Christy.
I always think it must be weird to be born with a face and body like that.
Yeah, but everybody’s born with gifts. It’s just that sometimes some of them are more visible.
What’s it like making your name into a brand?
I still find it very peculiar when other people use my name, you know? But now, I’m a bit better now, I just ignore it, I can see it written, or I can hear it, I just… Excuse me for one moment. I have to take this ounce of juice, which smells absolutely vile and tastes even worse.
(Marc takes his vitamins) How do you go about choosing the subjects for your Marc Jacobs campaigns?
Juergen and I just get on the phone. Sometimes, I have a very specific person in mind but I want Juergen to be inspired and excited and he feels the same way. We just come to an agreement and then he goes off with a bunch of clothes and accessories and does the shoot.
How did working with Juergen come about?
A while back, Joe McKenna had a magazine called Joe’s Magazine and he asked us to take a page and we didn’t have any advertising budget. But I knew Kim Gordon was wearing one of my dresses on stage when Sonic Youth were performing and I knew they were going to be in London. I just asked Juergen if he would go and take a picture of Kim on stage and we could run it in Joe’s. That set the precedent for what became our ad campaign.
How did the Sonic Youth friendship come about?
I had just finished the ‘Grunge’ collection and my friend was directing the video for Sugar Kane (above) and used the song in the show. Sonic Youth had this concept where they wanted to do a false fashion show, using the clothes up in the Perry Ellis showroom, with kids and fashion editors modelling. Chloe Sevigny was the star - she was relatively unknown to everyone except the skater kids in New York and Harmony. So that’s how I met Kim for the first time. I’m in the video; my dog’s in it, all my friends are in it. It’s really funny because I have very long hair and I’m wearing a flannel shirt!
Do you think you’ll always be known as the designer who invented ‘Grunge’?
Probably. I feel very proud of that collection, as well as the last season at Marc and Vuitton. I just want to keep doing this. I just want more of the same - good days and bad days, good choices and bad choices. I want to be able to keep doing it, keep participating and keep being involved in the world. I don’t have a goal of world domination and I don’t want to do the perfect collection, I just want to keep doing it. Period.