the a-z of marc jacobs

On his 53rd birthday, we celebrate the iconic American designer’s most memorable moments -- from his iconic Perry Ellis grunge collection to getting our motors running on ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race.’

by Emily Manning
09 April 2016, 4:55pm

A is for Always on time: If you can count on one thing at New York Fashion Week these days, it's that Marc's blockbuster shows are going to start at 6pm, sharp. But it hasn't always been like Ashanti once sang. "Courtney Love lit up a cigarette," reported the New York Daily News, when spring/summer 07's began two full hours after its scheduled start time. But Marc's since turned back the clock and is now by far the most prompt designer in the City that Never Sleeps (though his collections have always been worth the wait).

B is for Bookmarc: The library is open! Five years ago, the Patron Saint of Bleecker Street launched his first reading room, and has since hosted countless launches for all his favorite bookworms. Grace Coddington, Terry Richardson, and Caroline De Maigret have all swung by the shop to prove reading really is fun-damental.

C is for Charivari: Long before Jacobs headed up his own global fashion empire, he worked as a stockboy at Charivari -- the legendary Upper West Side avant-garde boutique that permanently shuttered in 1998. Following his standout Parsons collection, the store placed orders for his punky sweaters; when Bill Cunningham snapped photos of them in 1985 for the New York Times, "it definitely started it all," Jacobs said.

D is for Drag Race: Earlier this year, Jacobs cast RuPaul's Drag Race contestant Milk (coincidentally a former MJ employee) for a coveted spot in his super star-studded spring/summer 16 campaign. But Jacobs continues his search for charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent as a guest judge on Drag Race. His episode airs this coming Monday -- may the best woman win!

E is for Eight million dollars: Marc is known for his larger than life sets (a massive pink house, field full of clouds, Ziegfeld Theater). But one out does them all: the full steam train that came rolling on through the Louis Vuitton fall/winter 12 set like it was the damn Polar Express. The cost? A reported $8 million.

F is for Feeling: We know, New York is low-key freezing right now. But summer's just around the corner, so start getting in the spirit by revisiting Matt Lambert and i-D's MJ film, "The Feeling." An ode to endless nights and continuous sunrises, it'll help see you through this weird April weather.

G is for Grunge: It's your standard fashion story: In 1987, 24-year-old designer becomes youngest person to win the Council of Fashion Designers of America's Perry Ellis Award; designer then named the womenswear creative director of said brand following the death of its founder. Five years later, designer shows now infamous "grunge" collection of flannels, combat boots, beanies, and tartan that's still a major touch point for today's industry. Designer gets sacked from Perry Ellis due to collection's commercial failure, goes on to found multi-million dollar empire anyway.

H is for Hats: Louis Vuitton fall/winter 12 had the Hogwarts Express, Marc's mainline, however, had hats -- so many good hats. Look at these. It's hard not to be obsessed with them. Genius milliner Stephen Jones said they were inspired by "Edwardian shapes and Veronica Lake shapes," but also, obviously, by pimps.

I is for Ink: Jacobs has spent a fair amount of time under the needle immortalizing cartoon characters including Spongebob and the red M&M. Jacobs also has two tattoos of himself as a cartoon: one is a copy of his appearance in my favorite thing ever -- Harper's Bazaar's Simpsons-meet-Linda Evangelista fashion spread -- while the other is of Muscle Man Marc, the designer's cameo as Eric Cartman's toy on South Park, which Marc later made a real doll version of.

J is for Juergen Teller: Not since Versace and Avedon has a photographer so profoundly shaped a brand's visual identity than Juergen Teller's work for Marc Jacobs. Since 1998, the German photographer has leant his lens to nearly every one of the designer's campaigns, shooting Sofia Coppola, Cindy Sherman, Winona Ryder, and Harmony Korine in his spontaneously stark style. In more recent years, David Sims has photographed Jacobs' campaigns, following Teller's decision not to shoot Miley Cyrus for spring 2014.

Perry Ellis spring/summer 92 via YouTube

K is for Kate Moss: Though they recently united to send up a holy edict to "all the basic bitches," Jacobs and Moss have known each other for over 20 years. The super strolled hand-in-hand with Kristen McMenamy down Jacobs' Perry Ellis grunge-way, a double trouble appearance the designer has since revealed was actually an early reference to gay marriage.

L is for Lil Kim: My personal favorite MJ BFF is Marc's longtime pal the Queen Bee. When Kim was serving a 10-month prison sentence in upstate New York, Jacobs would make regular trips to visit her and wrote her letters every week. After the designer created a charity tee in her likeness, Kim returned the fashionable favor. "I painted the Bratz and made them all wear Marc Jacobs," she recalled, "and sent it to him. He blew it up and framed it, and now it's hanging in his house. So Marc Jacobs is the best."

M is for Marc by Marc: Despite a celebrated three-season run by co-creative directors Katie Hillier and Luella Bartley, last April marked the end for one of the most influential designer diffusion lines ever -- launched in 2001, long before the High Street revolution. Revisit i-D's thoughts to find out why the end of Marc by Marc really matters

Photography Angelo Pennetta

N is for Neville: Jacobs has many furry friends, but perhaps none of his pooches has stolen hearts like Neville, his brown and white bull terrier that after racking up close to 200k Instagram followers, snagged a Paper Magazine cover last winter.

O is for Orgy: In October, The New York Post ran a disrespectful article regarding Jacobs' "business struggles" and "bizarre behavior," which was followed just one day later by a Page Six piece originally titled "Marc Jacobs hosts a wild, 10-person orgy." The designer wasn't standing for either. He published an open letter to Post writer Maureen Callahan blasting her put-down before chiding Page Six's (surprise!) inaccuracy: "Wild??? I'd say 'MILD.'" Yes.

P is for Provincetown: Marc might be a native New Yorker, but when the weather gets hot, you can catch him in P-Town -- the east coast's historic LGBT enclave in coastal Massachusetts. Not only does Jacobs have a summer house in town, he's been a great neighbor. His charity tees raised nearly $50,000 to restore the Provincetown Community Center and its playground facilities, while a previous effort netted nearly $40K for the local soup kitchen. Both "the local public library and art museum both feature wings named after [Robert] Duffy [Jacobs' former business partner] or the Jacobs corporation," reports Fashionista

Q is for Queerness: These last two points have demonstrated just how centrally queerness factors into Marc Jacobs' identity as a man and a brand. He long operated a Marc by Marc specialty outpost in Provincetown, whose employees participated in the annual LGBT-centric Carnival parade each August -- lifting themes like Space Odyssey and Vegas to seriously epic proportions. When confronted with puritanical judgements of his personal sex life, Jacobs has refreshingly chosen never to sugarcoat his honest responses. He's used his public platform to demonstrate that queerness isn't something to be balked at, but a dynamically rich facet of human life and creative expression.

R is for ROLLERINA CHIC: To celebrate the launch of 70s glamor king Chris Von Wangenheim's tome Gloss, Marc resurrected legendary NY nightlife capital Tunnel for one night only. The party's very serious dress code was lifted straight from the designer's 15-year-old party boy days at Studio 54. The all caps edict included: "BLEACHED EYEBROWS, SLITS, RIDING IN ON A WHITE HORSE," as well as "PATTI HEARST SYMBIONESE LIBERATION ARMY GEAR, ROGUE," and, obviously, "ROLLERINA CHIC."

S is for Sonic Youth: Jacobs has been friendly with the iconic no-wave band's former front-couple -- Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon -- long before Gordon appeared in his fall/winter 15 campaign. Upon casting Kim and daughter Coco last year, the designer penned a moving letter to Gordon on Instagram recalling the first time they'd met on the set on the set of the band's music video for "Sugar Kane," which leant a behind the scenes look to Jacobs' grunge collection (and starred a teen Chloë Sevigny). "[Kim] represented all that was intelligent, unconventionally creative and cool...awkward, powerful, the epitome of artistic credibility and a seductive intensity that I'd never known," Jacobs wrote.

T is for Tees: In addition to those aforementioned P-Town charity products, Jacobs has raised countless funds for various organizations by creating some seriously covetable tees. Think "Protect the Skin You're In," the long-spanning line of shirts that featured Naomi Campbell, Miley Cyrus, Chloë Sevigny, and many more stripped to their skivvies to benefit the NYU Cancer Institute and NYU Langone Medical Center. In 2009, he raised over $100,000 to help fund a public skatepark in Savannah, Georgia.

U is for Ultimate squad: Name any cool creative person. There's a high likelihood they've, at some point, been in a Marc Jacobs campaign or runway show. The designer's squads are unmatched, diverse, and only keep growing. His spring/summer 16 campaign alone featured: Bette Midler, Juliette Lewis, Christina Ricci, Lana Wachowski, Milk, Jamie Boschert, Molly Bair, rocker Tracy Antonopoulos, Sandra Bernhardt, Bella Hadid, Beth Ditto, Kiki Willems, Chloë Sevigny impersonator Drew Droege, Alek Wek, Sky Ferreira, Emily Ratajkowski, American Ballet Theater dancer James Whiteside, and, somehow, many more beautiful people.

Image via @themarcjacobs

V is for Victoria Beckham: Before Beckham had her own slot on the NYFW schedule, she starred in one of Teller's most memorable MJ campaigns. Posh poked her head and feet out of giant Marc bags and shoe boxes in 2008's playfully irreverent and snappy surrealist ads. She later appeared on one of Jacobs' skin tees, most memorably sported by, duh, David.

W is for Womenswear: Jacobs designs it, yes, but also wears it. "I like wearing skirts, I like wearing kilts. I started like a few years ago. I moved from kilts into pencil skirts," the designer said in 2011, before proclaiming: "I wear now mostly Prada pencil skirts." And you look good doing it.

X is for X Marcs the Spot: Jacobs has certainly called on his celebrity friends for appearances in his playful campaigns, but has also amassed a pretty impressive roster of artistic collaborators -- especially during his tenure as Louis Vuitton's creative director. He collaborated with Takashi Murakami for 13 years, reintroduced us to the late Stephen Sprouse's neon graffiti, and splashed bags with Yayoi Kusama's idiosyncratic polkadots. 

Image via @themarcjacobs

Y is for "Yours to try:" You know how the saying goes: when life gives you a scintillating public Instagram post you meant as a DM, make a t-shirt. That's what MJ did when he accidentally posted a nude selfie captioned "it's yours to try!" to his public Instagram feed rather than a flirty direct message. When Insta-puritans came to throw shade, Jacobs gave it right back, straight up: "I'm a gay man. I flirt and chat with guys on line sometimes. BIG DEAL!" He later turned the goof into an amazing tee.

Z is for Zana Bayne: The cheeky designer teamed up with New York fashion's first lady of leather last Valentine's day for a whip smart, bondage-inspired collection of harnesses, tassels, and more. 


Text Emily Manning
Photography Venetia Scott
[The Wealth Issue, No. 269, September 2006]

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