Purple Magazine
— The Essence of Fashion Issue #41 S/S 2024

marc jacobs

Chloë Sevigny wears a black and white dress with black lambskin gloves Marc Jacobs. Photo by Gray Sorrenti




portrait by OLIVIER ZAHM


Marc Jacobs, a true icon of American fashion, burst onto the New York scene in the mid-1980s, dazzling the world with his edgy designs. His meteoric rise propelled him to Paris as the creative genius behind Louis Vuitton from 1997 to 2013, where he reinvented the luxury brand and introduced ready-to-wear collections. Back in New York, Jacobs continues to electrify the fashion industry, seamlessly connecting with younger audiences. He has renewed his style, epitomizing fashion today. 


BILL POWERS — The previous issue of Purple was about revolution. Is real change still possible?

MARC JACOBS — Change is always happening, and things are changing at an incredible pace. Look at you recording on a device that didn’t exist when I was growing up. It’s a huge change having information constantly from people I know, from people I don’t know, people I care about, people I don’t care about. 

I’ve changed into a person who feels this need to tell the world what I’m doing and to see what they’re doing. That’s never happened before. 

BILL POWERS — Arthur C. Clarke, the science fiction writer who wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey, had three rules about the future. One was that any sufficiently advanced technology should be indistinguishable from magic. When you do a show, is there a litmus test for when you feel like you’re touching on magic? 

MARC JACOBS — I never really know what we’re doing until it’s over. Sometimes there are components coming together during the last few days, like the hair and the make-up and the music. Or even the idea of having a violinist play a piece from Einstein on the Beach. I lose the ability to understand what’s going on, and then there’s this moment when it all becomes clear right before the show starts. But typically, it’s only when the show is over that I’m like, “Wow, that’s what it was about.” They’re all abstract ideas and thoughts — some of them live, and some of them don’t. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — Because you don’t overly rely on your rationality. You follow your intuition.

MARC JACOBS — Yes, I do. This last show wasn’t my favorite show at all because, fundamentally, I kept comparing it to a type of show I’d done years ago that had certain components that, to me, felt like a “show.” With this one, there was an intuition or instinct that happened. After it was over, people formed this idea of what it was or how good it was, and I thought, “That totally wasn’t my intention.” I just kept looking at these markers and saying, “I have no idea what I’m doing, and I really don’t like this, so let’s just cut the length of the show in half and do the finale.” All these things were concessions and accommodations, choices I’ve made out of necessity. Other people who didn’t know the bullshit I was going through said, “Wow, it spoke of this, and it spoke of that.” But to me, it felt like “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

BILL POWERS — I feel that fashion is about subtlety and nuance, which is increasingly rare in Western culture. The story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” remains perennial because there’s truth in that. We want to make fun of that emperor, but really the chicest thing you could be wearing is something that almost looks like nothing. 

MARC JACOBS — Well, to me, the emperor saw something in nothing, and the audience laughed because he was such a fool. But in my case, I’m suggesting that the audience saw something where I felt there was nothing to see. I certainly don’t compare what we do to the work of an artist.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Runway shows seem to be very important for you, as much as the collection itself. Could you tell us why?

MARC JACOBS — Because it’s an experience. I’m always looking for some kind of emotional reaction. I think of the music, the look, the whole thing. You’re sitting in that chair, and for a couple of minutes, you have a transcendent experience. And I’ve been at shows where I just sit and think, “Okay, I’m looking at a bunch of clothes on models.” I don’t have those chills. It’s the same with art. I’ve stood in front of a painting, and I know nothing about the work or the history of the artist, but I know when I get the feeling of, “Fuck, this is amazing” — like building a fucking train in the Louvre for a Louis Vuitton show. I worked with Katie Grand for a long time, and we had what we called the “hip-hop show” at the Armory for Marc Jacobs. There were two rows of chairs, and there was no music, and it was completely empty. The entire cast just walked out from Lexington to Park, where there was a huge set of speakers. It’s like, “There’s no set, it’s the bare-bones Armory, and we’re still going to give you drama.” That marked the beginning of a new chapter for me. Or when we had Karole Armitage do the whole dance thing at the Armory — it was the same. Maybe it couldn’t have gotten any bigger.

BILL POWERS — Glenn O’Brien would say that “atmosphere” is the term we use to contextualize the invisible. When all those elements come together.

OLIVIER ZAHM — To capture the invisible, being young, the physicality. 

MARC JACOBS — But how do you know what that visceral thing is? Why do some people like one show but then go to another show with 50 similar models and say, “Thank God that’s over”?

BILL POWERS — Because it might be a repeat of a repeat of a repeat type of thing. That goes back to [indie filmmaker] Amos Poe quoting Martha Graham: “Repetition not for the monotony, but for the ecstasy it induces.” Warhol wouldn’t have been Warhol, serialization wouldn’t have hit, unless there was something very comforting about the ecstasy of repetition. 

MARC JACOBS — That’s the thing I love about Philip Glass: this hypnotic repetition. His minimal approach is part of his power. It’s the repetition that hypnotizes you, and you sink into it.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Maybe it’s a metaphor for fashion because fashion is all about change. But you can’t change from season to season — you are always Marc Jacobs. From 1994 to now, it’s been almost three decades of shows.

MARC JACOBS — It reminds me of what a broken record I am because it’s been decades of this. I’m on the phone with my shrink twice a week saying, “You don’t understand — it’s just not going to happen this time.” But there is change, and there’s repetition, right? 

BILL POWERS — What solace does your shrink give you when you’re talking to him about that fear?

MARC JACOBS — His famous line, the one that saved my mind, is, “History tells you otherwise.” So, when I’m saying: “This show will not happen. We will not get this collection together. We are too late with the fabrics. We haven’t figured out what direction we want to go in,” he tells me, “History tells you otherwise.”

OLIVIER ZAHM — Three decades of consistency. And you keep going, Marc. You never stop. Like Karl Lagerfeld, like Rick Owens, you are still able to provide an interesting collection, an interesting show, exciting moments of fashion, year after year. People always expect something new and exciting from you. How is that possible?

MARC JACOBS — It’s funny because I don’t really believe that anymore. I don’t know if I ever did. I feel I belong to another generation and another time. I sometimes feel that I’m breaking down physically. I think there was a moment before the pandemic where the struggle was with how to be relevant. There was a point in my career where I never thought about being
relevant. Now, I kind of have to think, “How do I make something and be true to myself?” 

I have a very small team compared with what I used to have, and the resources are very different from what they used to be, but for the small team that is left, we still want to do this. We’re all passionate. But one of the things I go through is, “What are we doing this for?” I’m a huge fan of fashion, and I know what I like. I know whose work I like, and part of what is so appealing about their work is that they feel present and relevant right now. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — What’s very important is that you love and have an instinct for fashion, and fashion is your life. Whatever the size of the team is, whatever the resources are, you are there, and you embrace your medium. It’s not just a question of commerce or being successful.

MARC JACOBS — It’s never been that for me. I mean, there are parts of this company that are very successful financially, but the collection was never one of them. And we always had this freedom, whether at Louis Vuitton or here at Marc Jacobs. We’ve never had to sit there and figure out the commercial pieces. It’s a luxury that we’ve been told, “Make something, tell a story, and it will inspire the rest of the company to keep doing the commercial stuff.” But I still compare where we are now to where I once was — stupid comparisons. I’m 60 years old, comparing myself to when I was 25 and starting out. I get these reminders, and it’s like my first show at Perry Ellis. I remember how it felt to just say, “Fuck it, we’re doing a wedding dress that looks like a Jasper Johns flag,” or whatever it was. And I’d kind of marvel at the fact that I could suggest something, and it would get done.

BILL POWERS — Is it because the stakes get higher as you get older?

MARC JACOBS — Who knows what happens in the course of 35 years? What happens is you go through crazy years of addiction and being insane, and maybe you make some good work during those days or years, or maybe you don’t. You go from being a New York kid who dreamed of becoming a Paris fashion designer to getting the biggest job you’ve ever had, at Louis Vuitton. Going from this timid “I think everybody at Louis Vuitton hates me, and the French hate me” to saying, “Fuck it, I don’t care.” 

OLIVIER ZAHM — I think you’re someone who doesn’t look back. You’ve had such a history of fashion. You marked a chapter of fashion history. And if you look back, you can move on. You have to be amnesic, and each time you do a new collection, you have to start from zero.

MARC JACOBS — We do. I look at what we just did, and I always start from there. I’m like: “This is what I liked about it. This is what I didn’t like about it.” It’s a conversation.

OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s a conversation with yourself, and it’s a starting point for the next.

MARC JACOBS — Yes. It seems that it’s a starting point for the next, but it probably isn’t really. [Laughs]

BILL POWERS — It could also just be a reactionary narrative. I think looking back at the last collection gives you something to push against or toward. 

MARC JACOBS — Now, we’re in the part of the process where we’re looking at a lot of past collections to see if there was something there that interests me. I have no problem with nostalgia. I know it gets a really bad rap, and people hate it.

BILL POWERS — Sofia Coppola is trying to make Elvis new right now in a different way. You could say that’s nostalgia, or you could say that you’re trying to pull a different narrative from the past.

MARC JACOBS — It’s current in that it’s a new interest and a new take. We’re not trying to reproduce anything we’ve done before, necessarily. But sometimes, something just comes up. When we first started doing shows and showing collections after the pandemic, there was something about that first show that I really liked. Maybe it’s because it was the first show after the pandemic, or maybe there was something special about this collection.

BILL POWERS — What about when Hilton Als writes on his Instagram, “Style, never fashion”? 

MARC JACOBS — Yeah, boring. [Laughs] I mean, I love Hilton. I don’t know if it was Mrs. Vreeland or whoever, but many people have said that they’re interested in style and not fashion. Even designers like Norman Norell said that fashion is what people wear, and style is more innate. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — Style is who you are. You developed an incredible style for yourself. You’ve had a different style at every stage of your life, and now you embrace a new style.

MARC JACOBS — This goes back to the conversation of change. We’re always changing, whether we can put our finger on it or not. Some of it may be out of our control. Getting older is changing, right? You aren’t the same as you were 10 years ago.

BILL POWERS — You were one of the first designers to embrace artistic collaboration in an interesting way. You did that early on at Louis Vuitton with Takashi Murakami, Richard Prince, and Yayoi Kusama. Do you think this trend is over now? 

MARC JACOBS — In fashion, it’s a trap to say, “Oh, that’s over.” Because it will bite you in the ass. It’s like: “You think it’s finished? Wait until Demna shows.” [Laughs]

BILL POWERS — Does fashion really help art? You think about Chanel designing the costumes for the Ballets Russes (Le Train Bleu) and Picasso painting stage sets. Now, it might be the opposite: art collaborating with fashion. How did you begin integrating art into your collections?

MARC JACOBS — I think I’ve told this story a million times. I was in Paris, and I was thinking about what I should do. My name’s not Louis Vuitton — I was just brought in as the creative director. I felt like I had a false start and that it was too cerebral. I tried to hide all the logos. But as things got a bit more comfortable for me, I thought about what Paris meant to me. I thought, “Okay, let me dial this back to a time when people like Schiaparelli worked with Jean Cocteau, or Chanel had Picasso do a set.” In Paris, there was a creative culture whether you were a designer or an artist, you were part of a creative community that shared ideas and made things happen together. So, I thought, “Okay, I’m going to call Murakami,” or I called Stephen Sprouse. The idea came from a trunk in Charlotte Gainsbourg’s apartment that was given to her father, Serge. It was right by the side of her bed, and I asked her about it. She said: “Oh yeah, that was my dad’s. He painted it black because he didn’t like the monogram.” And I thought of [Marcel Duchamp’s] L.H.O.O.Q., where the mustache was painted on the Mona Lisa, and I said, “This is it — we’re just going to do graffiti and deface the monogram.” So, there was this idea of Duchamp, and the idea of inviting other people to collaborate with me.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Was it difficult to make this happen in a corporation like Louis Vuitton?

MARC JACOBS — The first time with Sprouse was really hard. But everything I did was difficult because nobody wanted me there. I brought in Sprouse, and he was like: “You can’t deface the monogram. That’s absolutely forbidden.” And then Bernard Arnault said: “I brought you in to do everything that they say you can’t. I want you to interrupt things, to disrupt things.”

BILL POWERS — Do you think that’s sometimes a problem when you get to certain levels of culture, and everything kind of defaults to a co-op board in some way? For a lot of creative undertakings, you need some kind of singular authorial initiation.

MARC JACOBS — But it wasn’t even that point-blank. It was how I interpreted his reaction. I did get a positive reaction, but I was also being told by a lot of people that I couldn’t do something, that I wasn’t allowed. And I thought, “I’ve spent two years here trying to win a popularity contest, and that isn’t what I was brought in to do.” So, when I stopped trying to make friends and did what I thought was right, I got somewhere.

BILL POWERS — Do you think that in terms of the zeitgeist — and not that you’re trying to be down with the kids — it’s harder letting information in from the world when you’re living in Nyack or someplace? 

MARC JACOBS — Going back to this idea of being relevant, I’m not a culture vulture. Sometimes I stop myself, and I just think, “What happened to me?” I used to know the music scene, and I used to know the art scene, but on a younger level. I knew where to go. It was instinctive. I mean, what happened to the person who was into Sonic Youth before anybody knew who Sonic Youth was? Now I don’t know who’s popular. There’s this girl Ava Nirui who had done these counterfeit sweatshirts. It was like my name but misspelled. And they sold out. 

BILL POWERS — I still have a “Marc Jackass” t-shirt somewhere. 

MARC JACOBS — Well, that’s an old story. Three years ago, I started a collaboration with that young artist, Ava Nirui, who just embroidered “Mark Jacobs,” but with a “k” instead of a “c.” She made counterfeit sweatshirts that Justin Bieber and all these people were wearing, and she turned out to be a really cool girl. I asked her if she would ever think of working with us, so she started working on a collection that we eventually called “Heaven by Marc Jacobs.” And Ava had this incredible community of young people whom she genuinely, authentically, credibly connected to. All of a sudden, there’s Ice Spice, and there’s a rave in Brooklyn, and she’s using all of our references. She’s referencing the show Hi Octane and Gregg Araki movies and all of the stuff that used to be so much a part of my story. If I went back to look at those things and tried to do what she was doing, I’d have a bunch of old people telling me, “Oh yeah, those were great times.” With Ava, I had people calling me because they wanted this sweatshirt that she had done for a Donnie Darko collaboration. People for whom this movie changed their life, and they had to have the sweatshirt.

OLIVIER ZAHM — That’s interesting because it’s not something that you strategically planned. It just happened.

MARC JACOBS — There was a fluidity in the way these things happened. There was innocence. I said: “I like that counterfeit sweatshirt. Let’s see the girl who made it.” Instead of like, “Sue her.”

BILL POWERS — We were also talking before about how for all the fluidity in human sexuality now, that’s really one of the things that fashion gave culture more broadly. Would David Bowie have been able to open some of those doors without fashion? 

MARC JACOBS — It would’ve been different. Luckily, we don’t have to imagine a world with David Bowie in a leather jacket and jeans. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you think about the influence of fashion on the possibility of a genderless society?

MARC JACOBS — The gender conversation is really interesting and difficult to have. I think the conversation, the vocabulary, and the ideas are very different now than when I was younger. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — Because your generation was the ’80s. You had Andy Warhol, who was the first to really open the queer culture as a fashion scene and as an art scene. That was a big moment, and it didn’t happen in Paris. Okay, Duchamp did Rrose Sélavy, and there were a few individuals here and there. But this was in New York, and your generation was the first to recognize the possibility of queer culture as a source of inspiration and as a possible change in society.

MARC JACOBS — Well, for somebody my age or of my generation, it was more about the difference in the conversation. It was more about the male and female, the binary. It was not so much about all these various labels or identities. It was about the dream of expanding the definition of what it meant to be masculine and what it meant to be feminine. I just thought both of those things should be broadened to include so much more, so that it wouldn’t be necessary to have different labels. It was the idea that we could expand our minds to allow for a much broader definition of these things.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And it’s not about destroying the polarity of male and female. 

BILL POWERS — Well, that’s interesting because you mentioned Duchamp and Rrose. He was trying to expand the definition of that with the found object. Real innovators are about expansion. 

MARC JACOBS — I was watching a really good documentary on Little Richard, and he did all of that before anybody. He did it before Prince, and he got hell for it. It was problematic for a lot of people because it’s like, “Men don’t wear makeup, and men don’t sing songs about taking it up the ass.” But that’s what he was doing. And later it became okay for Bowie and Iggy and Lou Reed and whoever. I think there was so much more going on, politically and in every single way. I think the ’60s really opened people’s eyes to that, with civil rights and people having this incredible desire to be heard and to be free and liberated and to not have to conform to certain norms. So, I think it really started in the ’60s before Andy, in a trendy fashion, glamorous, glossy way. I think there were a lot of people in Andy’s orbit who were fucking with all of that stuff. 

BILL POWERS — Do you think as people get older, they tend to get more conservative? 

MARC JACOBS — Some people do, and some people don’t. I think I’ve become more flamboyant as I get older. I don’t give
a fuck anymore. 
Sitting here with silver nail polish, I wish I could have gotten away with it when I was in grade school. I went to school with embroidered jeans that I did myself, and I got hell for it. I got bullied, called a faggot, etc. As a kid, I didn’t understand why girls got to wear nail polish or sequin blouses, and we didn’t. Because I like things that shine, and I like things that sparkle, and I just didn’t understand why that wasn’t allowed. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — But it’s interesting that you had this desire very young.

MARC JACOBS — Totally. I wanted platform shoes. I wanted glitter on my eyelids. But that was largely because of these people we spoke about who are so iconic. I looked at Bowie, and I wanted to look like him. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — How do you see fashion today? Is it more creative? Is it more diverse? Is it more interesting? Or is it becoming too big and too global, and infiltrating every part of society? Are we losing fashion?

MARC JACOBS — I don’t think we are losing anything. We just have to look at it differently. Even if there’s a shit ton of information, a certain type of person has a kind of natural filter. You just tune out a lot of garbage. Even if it distracts you, it’s not permanent, and you can see through it to find the thing that you’re interested in. But I think everything is changing exponentially. I look at the physical changes. I like to go shopping for things, so I like the same kind of brick-and-mortar sensibility. I don’t really shop on the Internet, but that seems to be the way people buy things.

BILL POWERS — Do you miss the New York you used to know? Remember when you were a kid, and you could go to Antique Boutique? 

MARC JACOBS — Well, that’s a fact of life. I think the problem is looking at the present or looking to the future with the eyes and the sensibility of the past. I go through New York, and there’s nothing familiar. This neighborhood has changed, that has changed. New York doesn’t feel the same to me. Where are all the cool places? What happened to the East Village? But that’s because I’m looking at it through the eyes of a 30-year-old me who used to go to St. Mark’s. When I gripe about the changes, it’s because I’m comparing them to something that’s really long gone. I remember when New York Magazine did that whole piece about Gem Spa, and people were crying about it because it was such a fixture on St. Mark’s. The New York Dolls were photographed in front of Gem Spa. Now it’s gone. But when was the last time you were there? It’s like, “Well, 40 years ago, but
I hate to see it gone.” 

BILL POWERS — Do you think that if you were starting off as a fashion designer as your 20-year-old self in New York now, it would be a tougher climb? Would you do it now?

MARC JACOBS — I’d totally do it now, if I had the energy and the passion of that 20-year-old me. Jonathan Anderson asked me the same question at the LVMH prize ceremony. Would 60-year-old me start up now? No. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — What do you think about fashion photography today, when everyone is a photographer?

MARC JACOBS — Everybody has a phone, and everyone takes a picture. It’s just a different world. I used to dream of going into the studio with Steven Meisel and doing an ad campaign for Louis Vuitton or Marc Jacobs. It was so exciting having the meeting, doing the casting, doing the hair. And what happened in the studio in front of a camera was so great. We don’t really do that anymore. I mean, we do it, but it’s not the same — the time and effort that would go into choosing and styling the clothes, the prep for a photoshoot, where the images were so important. 

BILL POWERS — Do you think some of it is technologically driven because there wasn’t retouching and effects?

MARC JACOBS — I remember seeing so many people on monitors with David Sims or with Steven Meisel, and I was like: “I bet Helmut Newton didn’t have any of this stuff. I bet Richard Avedon didn’t do this. I bet Guy Bourdin didn’t do this.” You’re in the studio, and there are like 20 people on monitors. It looks like NASA.

BILL POWERS — Technology has always changed photography.

MARC JACOBS — I did nine years of advertising with Juergen Teller, and he had one little Canon camera. It was hilarious. There was no lighting; there was no hair and make-up. When we did the fragrance ads for Perfect, he’d just do all the pictures on his iPhone, but that makes sense today.

BILL POWERS — I feel like so many of the topics we touched upon are about knowing what your status in the world is. So, if you’re Juergen Teller, you don’t need to have all the accoutrements.

MARC JACOBS — It’s quite hard. I know this is not really what we’re talking about, but I think about something that Kristen McMenamy said one day that really stayed with me. She said that we are the “leftover generation.” And I really understood. We were the generation, and now we’re the “we’re still here generation.”

OLIVIER ZAHM — The context has changed so much because I believe there is actually exponential creativity today. You have the big fashion houses and an incredible variety of emerging brands. Young people do something new because they have new technology, no fear, and nothing to lose. It’s a totally different situation. Do you see it as exciting or scary?

MARC JACOBS — I’m more scared of technology than anything, honestly. I just did an interview with an AI for i-D Magazine, and it was terrifying because it was so amazing. It asked questions, I responded, and then it would respond to my response. Obviously, it was fed some information about what the collection was, but I was so blown away. 

BILL POWERS — What was the scary part about it, though? 

MARC JACOBS — Well, the scary part was how understanding it was. When I expressed that I feared technology, it said, “I hope I’ve made you feel a little bit more comfortable about the collaboration between you and me.” Also, this thing had no gender, but
I gave it the gender of a female because it was sensitive. It just blew my mind.

OLIVIER ZAHM — And the feedback and the questions were interesting? Did they force you to go deeper?

MARC JACOBS — Yes. And it was really interesting that at the beginning of the interview, it said: “I have no emotion. I have no feeling.” 

BILL POWERS — What’s underneath the fear? Is it that you feel less special, or that everything’s getting away from us? 

MARC JACOBS — I just think this world’s going in a really scary direction. We’re heading in a direction that is really unknown. 

OLIVIER ZAHM — Because we are living in a world of not only technology but also immediacy. Everything is immediate, and we don’t know what can happen from one moment to the next. 

MARC JACOBS — Yes, there’s that. And there’s this culture where human contact has changed so much. People just talk on their phones, and social contact is just completely different than it was. And that’s not just the “virtual world.” No, that’s the world — people, their reaction to things, using emojis instead of words. I mean, all of it is like fodder for the most incredible Twilight Zone episode ever.

OLIVIER ZAHM — But you started with an emoji in your first collection — with a smiley face. [Laughs]

MARC JACOBS — But that’s when it had a ’70s connotation. I never thought it would be a real tool for saying “I’m happy.”


[Table of contents]

The Essence of Fashion Issue #41 S/S 2024

Table of contents

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