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Marc Jacobs on fame, fashion and grunge

MARC Jacobs is this year's recipient of the CFDA's Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award. Jacobs' career is indeed one of dazzling achievement rooted in rare talent and a bottomless love of fashion. It has made for a thrilling, tumultuous narrative, one played out publicly over the course of a quarter century and filled with challenges, dramas, titillations, provocations and always, fabulous fashion. And oh yes, hard work. Just before Memorial Day, I visited Jacobs to chat about the honor, which he prefers to think of as a career-in-progress citation.

Q: What was your reaction to the award?

A: It's a great honor ... But it's not my achievement, number one. It is Marc Jacobs as a company ... It's every single thing that has helped to build this brand. We're not done. We want to continue to add to this.

Q: Do you follow young designers?

A: People ask me about the younger designers, Alex Wang and all of them, I think they're great. I couldn't do what they do. It's not what I do. But just like in pop music and in the art world, people always want new work from the artist that they like but they also want new artists. I don't think one changes the other. There's always room for new designers, new musicians, new artists, new writers. Madonna, I don't think is showing any signs of slowing down, but that doesn't mean Lady Gaga isn't taking over the world.

Q: Does age impact your work?

A: I guess there's a little less naivety in it. Going through the learning process and working here and in Paris, I personally think we've built a strength in terms of editing. Also, through becoming healthier and more confident (as a business), there's a sense of security and less fear. I don't feel like we're sticking our necks out when we're doing a show like before. We're all in this because we love fashion and part of that love for fashion is being unapologetic.

Q: Is there less pressure to put on one of the most anticipated shows every season?

A: I still feel the pressure. I've spent the past two weeks, which is super-premature, thinking that I don't know what we're going to do to top that last Vuitton show. I thought it was the most beautiful presentation.

Q: Did you know from the first time you picked up a pencil or looked at a dress that you were a great talent?

A: No. I still wouldn't say I am. I wouldn't. I don't mind if you say it but I'm not going to say it myself.

Q: Where do you fit in fashion history?

A: I don't know. I guess many years will have to pass and we'll have to look back and see what the social contribution is. ... I think the greatest contributors to fashion are women. Chanel, Vionnet. I think Vivienne Westwood; I think Miuccia Prada; Schiaparelli and Rei Kawakubo.

Q: Would you select one of them?

A: Miuccia, because of the aesthetic and the mood. There's something so shocking and so tender about it, and it's also very real. I mean, I'm sitting here in a banana print shirt from Prada (with a Comme des Garcons kilt.) In the way that Ralph Lauren has created a world that's affluent, Miuccia Prada created an aesthetic that is so rife with references to other great works. It's always filtered through her very specific aesthetic. There's an eccentricity but there's also a chic old world sophistication. It's so new, it's young but never vulgar. There's a sex appeal that's kind of naive. It's all the things I love.

Q: The younger designers - who's good?

A: I think Alexander Wang is really good ... His work looks well-formed and well-thought-out. And Jack and Lazaro (of Proenza Schouler). They're really mature in what they're doing. I'm not going into whether I like it personally, that's not what I'm talking about. We all have different taste. The clothes I like are Prada so that's that, or Comme. But as young American designers, they seem to be really good.

Q: Your favorite show - still grunge?

A: My favorite of all time will be grunge.

Q: Why?

A: It was probably the most liberating thing. It happened when I honestly felt like I couldn't stop designing because I was so inspired by the music that was going on, the photography going on, new girls - this idea of beauty in imperfection. There was so much more to it than making plaid shirts and flowing silk dresses. It wasn't about that. It was about a sensibility and also about a dismissal of everything that one was told was beautiful, correct, glamorous and sexy. I loved that it represented a newness. I think that's how people dress now. That moment hasn't passed. It's morphed into different things but it really hasn't passed.

Q: Do you think fashion overreacts?

A: That's just the nature of it. You are dealing with a whole lot of highly sensitive people who will react depending on their mood and how they're feeling that day or what they did or didn't eat for lunch. ... There aren't that many people who I respect. There just aren't. I think journalists have the right to their opinions but I think their opinions should be based on history and what they see, not what they feel, how long they've been waiting or whether it's raining or it's snowing or whatever.

Q: Does traditional media matter today?

A: I'm not sure it does as much as it used to, and I'm not sure how much it ever did. ... I don't know that the customer standing in the dressing room trying on a dress and loving it, really is going back and thinking, "I don't know. This is the dress they mentioned as being clumsy." I'm not sure how much it affects people.

Q: Why are you such a person of fascination?

A: I think that probably happened when I got in shape, then all of the sudden I started posing for pictures more. Instead of being the guy with the long hair and the glasses who didn't change his clothes, I became someone that everyone didn't want to see in his clothes. Everyone on photo shoots was like, "Take your clothes off!" and I was like, "With pleasure! I didn't work this hard to keep them on." Then it was my romances, then my problem with substances.

Q: You're not angry at all?

A: No. I don't feel like an angry person. I don't feel angry at all.


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