The New "It" Designer for Cate Blanchett, Sienna Miller Is … Marc Jacobs?
New York’s downtown designer never cared much for the red carpet, focusing instead on fashion’s It girls. But the designer who never cared about Tinseltown suddenly was all the talk of awards season, dressing stars including Kerry Washington, Olivia Wilde and Kirsten Dunst: "I started to feel about the red carpet the way I had about Instagram: I hated it, refused to look, but then I got full-on addicted!"
"Some people call me perverse," says Marc Jacobs one recent rainy evening in London. "Yeah, I guess that's me." He adds dryly, "But they also say I'm hilarious." It's two days after the designer's gushingly reviewed fall 2016 show closed out New York Fashion Week — a dark and moody extravaganza of Victoriana meets Goth complete with black feathers, rat prints and spider webs. Since bursting onto the scene with his famed grunge collection for Perry Ellis way back in '92, Jacobs has managed to remain the cool kid with New York's fashion elite. He's picked up dozens of CFDA Awards, and his hipper-than-thou NYFW spectacle shows always have been the town's toughest ticket. His unlikely inversion of luxury brand Louis Vuitton (he was creative director from 1997 to 2013) saw him produce collections nodding to the S&M film The Night Porter, with slutty nurses and "prostitution chic." Instead of being dismissed for their shock value, the clothes were hailed for their artistry, and Jacobs became the first American designer to ever truly take Paris.
From left: Coppola, Connor Dodd (Duffy’s spouse), Duffy and Anna Wintour at the Marc Jacobs Fall 2016 show at New York Fashion Week in February.
The twists and turns of Jacobs' career have made him impossible to predict, but the one thing you'd really never expect is for him to have a Hollywood breakout moment. He has never previously courted much of a red-carpet presence, but in 2015, America's most anti-establishment designer morphed into a newly crowned king of A-list dressing. His coronation kicked off with Kerry Washington at the Emmys in a badass sheer silver thigh-slit number, straight off the spring 2016 runway (the fashion show was Sept. 17, the Emmys Sept. 20). Then, in swift succession, there was Dakota Johnson at the Venice Film Festival, Rachel Weisz at the New York Film Festival and Sienna Miller at the London premiere of Burnt, but the real startler was when Cate Blanchett took the stage at the Palm Springs Film Festival this past January in a never-before-seen dusty blue Marc Jacobs gown with crystal beading. ("It wasn't done in time for the spring collection," he explains. "But it was one of my favorite dresses; it's now in production.") Olivia Wilde, Kirsten Dunst and Maggie Gyllenhaal (at the Golden Globes) soon followed.
So is this fresh red-carpet ride a strategic business move or a designer's new direction? In a commercial world, the two should proceed hand in hand, but in the past, Jacobs always has been more of a creative visionary. During the summer of 2015, Jacobs' namesake company hired its first celebrity relations senior vp, Celine Khavarani, away from Prada — a woman considered the label's secret weapon in dressing celebrities. Within months, luxury-house darlings like Blanchett and Miller were suddenly donning the designer, who previously had taken the nonchalant stance: "I always just dressed the women I relate to." This group usually consisted of close friends, edgier women like Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon, longtime muse Sofia Coppola or Winona Ryder, The Gossip frontwoman Beth Ditto and Lana Wachowski. When Jacobs departed Vuitton in 2013, the explanation was a desire to go public with his own collection, which he did to critical acclaim. In 2015, Jacobs' business partner and CEO Robert Duffy exited in March after 30 years, only to be replaced by LVMH-chosen CEO Sebastian Suhl, formerly of Givenchy. (The corporate giant still holds the purse strings — LVMH purchased 96 percent of Marc Jacobs when they hired him for Louis Vuitton; they now own 80 percent.) If all this celebrity courting sounds like a possible corporate play for bigger returns, it could well be.
Jacobs with RuPaul. The designer will appear April 11 as a guest judge (alongside Gigi Hadid) on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
The designer himself spins it in a different light. "I've always said my favorite color was shiny," laughs Jacobs. "But I was never interested in making 'eveningwear' kinds of clothes. The whole red-carpet thing got so boring: the same formula, the same mermaid dress. No one needs to pay a stylist to make them look like everyone else. Then I became conscious of Jamie Bochert, one of my favorite models, wearing long evening dresses for day — how cool that was! I started to feel about the red carpet the way I had about Instagram: I hated it, refused to look, but then I got full-on addicted!"
Star stylist Kate Young, who dressed clients Weisz, Johnson, Miller and Selena Gomez in Jacobs this year, appreciates his subversive spin on celebrity dressing. "I tend to stay away from boring Hollywood dresses — strapless or tight or bright," she explains. "This season Marc gave me great dresses to work with. My clients who wear them all have a little bit of punk spirit and appreciate the irony."
From left: Lady Gaga, Jacobs and Madonna after his Spring 2010 show at NYFW in 2009.
It appears Jacobs also embraces re-invention and controversy on a personal level. Now 52, we've seen him fat, thin and muscly as a gym bunny; he's been drunk, addicted and rehabbed. And no one (especially at the big-business end of fashion) has talked more openly about their peccadilloes and predilections: He has admitted to going on Grindr and having porn-star boyfriends, has posed naked in his own ad campaigns and last summer posted (accidentally, he says) a naked selfie on Instagram with the caption, "Yours for the asking!" (He later explained, "I was flirting with someone. … I'm a gay man. I flirt and chat with guys online sometimes. BIG DEAL!")
"Contradiction is what makes him a genius," says designer Anna Sui, his close friend of three decades. "His blend comes from the New York '70s we grew up in — a decadent counterculture of both glam rock and disco."
Jacobs always has gravitated toward artistic and anti-establishment entertainment types. He grew up in a showbiz family in New York City. His uncle, Sam Weisbord, was president of William Morris from 1975 to 1984, and his father worked there as an agent before he died of ulcerative colitis when Jacobs was 7. His mother remarried three times and moved often before eventually suffering a mental breakdown. Over the years, Jacobs has set about building "the Marc family" — Coppola, Christina Ricci, Gordon — quite simply, the cool girls. Coppola, who has worn his clothes for major moments in her life (like her best screenwriting Oscar win in 2004), met Jacobs after she saw his '92 grunge collection. "He's the real thing and has only grown as an artist in the 20 years I've known him," says the writer-director. "He's explored but always stayed true to his nature: sophisticated, sweet — and a little naughty."
Jacobs accompanied Cher (wearing his design) to the Met’s Costume Institute Gala in New York in May 2015.
But despite the New York in-your-face stance, friends often bring up his insecurity — as has he, claiming he's "shy." But could anything seem more contrary to his private life being played out in public — both in the media and in his much-mulled-over intense collections? "Well, I've never been a private person," he says rather proudly. "I've always been very honest about my shit. I'm the least private person I know! A celeb goes to a restaurant in sunglasses in front of the trendiest people, I don't get that. When I want privacy, I don't post on Instagram!"
A version of this story first appeared in the April 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.