turn it up! it's marc by marc jacobs

British designers Katie Hillier and Luella Bartley are spearheading a youth revolution with their playful and spirited re-imagining of the Marc by Marc Jacobs girl. Coming of age has never looked so good!

by Adam Fletcher and Rory Satran
06 October 2014, 10:10am

The Marc by Marc Jacobs space on Spring Street, NY, during the spring/summer 15 fittings is bustling: longtime Marc Jacobs super-stylist Venetia Scott eats lunch on one side of the sunny loft, while the company's president Robert Duffy, in a beanie emblazoned with sequined letters spelling M-A-R-C, inspects a pair of pink rubber boots. Those boots are part of the pastel-inflected, youth-jolt of a collection that will shake New York to Rhythm Controll's My House just a few days later. All around us are chatty models, changing from sneakers into very high heels, casting cards akimbo. We're in Katie Hillier, Luella Bartley and Marc Jacobs' world, and we don't mind waiting.

In the year since Katie and Luella were named Creative Director and Design Director of Marc by Marc Jacobs, respectively, they have infused Marc's iconic diffusion line with the spirit it deserves, and their story is now fashion fairytale. Introduced by Katie Grand in 1999, the two worked together on Luella's eponymous, much-loved London-based womenswear collections for a decade. Katie is the industry's go-to accessories whiz, consulting on brands including Victoria Beckham, Stella McCartney and Marc, and launching her jewellery line HILLIER (bunnies and diamonds). When Jacobs hired Katie to revamp the brand last summer, she called Luella immediately. The pair's first collection, selling out in stores now, is a crystallisation of cool, featuring exaggerated manga shapes, patchy jeans with illustrator Fergus Purcell, and BMX-gang jerseys reading "Revolution". They would repeat the feat shortly after our interview, with a spring collection twisting and folding decades of candy-coloured clubwear into a supernova of a show.

In the midst of the pre-show hullabaloo, Katie and Luella pause to hug colleagues, chat on the phone (Luella to her kids), arrange Starbucks (essential), and introduce i-D to the team (Katie: "This is my friend Sloan, she's the Design Director of Accessories."). Both are baby blonde and make-up-free with friendly, transparent demeanours. Katie is outgoing and businesslike, while Luella comes off as more reflective. But you get the impression that their fifteen-year collaboration is a relay race, with the women passing off the baton to one another. "I don't think there's any hierarchy to what we do," Luella says. "It's about bouncing off of each other. We usually end up sitting around my kitchen table and talking, coming up with ideas. Even when we're not working together, we're always talking."

These days that conversation often revolves around youth. Charged with reigniting the spirit of a brand that is often young girls' first designer purchase, Katie and Luella take their mission seriously. Plugging into youthful energy is less evident when you are travelling constantly to oversee a highly successful international business than when you are going to gigs with Justine Frischmann and M.I.A. (both were Luella's flatmates). But youth is a mindset. As Katie says, "You need to be aware of what's going on. You hear it through music, you see it through art. You make sure there are young people that are just out of college on the team. They're excited; that helps."

Natalie wears all clothing Marc by Marc Jacobs.

Luella adds: "I will always be obsessed with this coming of age moment in your life. I can't seem to escape that. I like youth. I find it fascinating, kind of romantic. So I still stick with that character, but there's definitely another layer to it that comes with the wiseness of getting older. That's what was nice about the [autumn/winter] collection. It was manga, and it was cartoony, and there were a lot of strong youth elements in there, but there was also a layer of an understanding to the clothing that only comes as you get a bit older. So, still obsessed with youth, but I am not young."

Examining how real creative people put their looks together on a shoestring is another constant in their work. A starting point for spring was the Ferus Gallery in mid-century Los Angeles, where artists like Edward Kienholz and Craig Kauffman experimented with nontraditional materials like cars and plastic. "They made things of beauty from found things," muses Katie. "Which is something we always like to look at: the DIY thing. A lot of the people that inspire us, like Judy Blame and that whole movement of stylists, artists, musicians didn't have a lot of money, but were proud about the way they looked. They had such a spirit inside of them that they wanted to get out there. It's quite a punk attitude, isn't it? And it plays on that individual spirit that we all like to be." Throw a band T-shirt over a latex long-sleeve and head to the rave.

Geographical wandering reflects the designers' lives. Katie and Luella split their working life between a small Shoreditch studio and the Marc by Marc headquarters in SoHo, New York, drawing inspiration from both cities. "We always try and start our research with something within America, that's important for the brand," says Katie. The spring collection was born after they travelled to LA and dug its burgeoning downtown energy. "When you're in London or New York, just being outside is enough," says Luella. "I quite like it in New York because you can sit on those benches outside Balthazar and just watch."

The 1950s LA art scene, rave gear, manga, London, New York… is your head spinning yet? That's the point. This Marc by Marc girl is updated for a multi-channel, multi-genre, multi-everything generation that has access to a universe of references at every moment. As Katie explains: "She takes a wild whirlwind trip through YouTube. One spot to the next spot. She's active, she's independent, she's spirited, she's youthful, she's feisty, she jumps around."

The Marc by Marc fall campaign, out now, was famously cast through the Instagram hashtag #CastMeMarc. Nine finalists were culled from thousands to take part in a campaign shot by Luella's husband David Sims. Katie says, "It's a continuation of the spirit from the way that Marc and Robert have employed art school students to work in the store, and then transfer to head office and assist somebody in the social media department or the cutting room. It's about giving people who are really interested in fashion an opportunity to become part of it."

That's what Marc by Marc has always been about: a sense of belonging and community in what can be a frosty fashion climate. Along with lots of fashion-mad girls - and boys - in the early 2000s, we would linger in the Marc store in the West Village, hoping for a glimpse of Sofia Coppola or Winona Ryder and spend our pocket money on keychains and perfume. With Katie and Luella's reinvigoration of the line, those kids are back on Bleecker.


Text Rory Satran
Photography Angelo Pennetta
Styling Julia Sarr-Jamois 
Hair Akki at Art Partner.
Make-up Francelle at Art + Commerce.
Photography assistance Rémi Lamandé.
Styling assistance Emily Manning.
Hair assistance Yusuke Hori.
Casting Angus Munro at AM Casting (Streeters NY).
Model Natalie Westling at The Society Management
Natalie wears all clothing Marc by Marc Jacobs. 

natalie westling
fashion interviews
Marc by Marc Jacobs
rory satran
david sims
katie hillier
luella bartley