Marc Jacobs was born in New York City in 1963. Aged fifteen he worked as a stock-boy at Charivari, a progressive clothing boutique in New York City. He later attended the art and design division of Parsons in New York where he received multiple student awards. Whilst still studying he designed his first line of knit jumpers to be sold at Charivari, commissioned by the owner Barbara Weiser. The label was called ‘Marc Jacobs for Marc and Barbara’.
Jacobs also launched Jacobs Duffy Designs Inc together with Robert Duffy, his creative collaborator and business partner since the mid eighties. Duffy, an executive with Ruben Thomas Inc had been in the audience of Jacobs’ graduate collection and immediately asked him to design a line for Ruben Thomas under the Sketchbook label. Their partnership still centres around two simple concepts of a love of fashion and commitment to quality.
Two years after graduating, the first collection bearing the Marc Jacobs designer moniker was created and the following year Jacobs received the honour of being the youngest designer ever to be awarded the CFDA’s highest tribute to an emerging designer. Under his own label he created irreverent takes on 1960s and hippy clothing, using his own versions of patchwork and gingham.
Jacobs began to design at Perry Ellis in 1988 after its eponymous founder had died; in the beginning Jacobs was briefly assisted by a young Tom Ford. During his time at Ellis, Jacobs became a prominent figure in the U.S fashion scene famously creating a Freudian (underwear) slip, which was printed with Freud’s face.
Jacobs lost his job in 1993 after designing his ‘grunge collection’. In 1989 Jacobs and Duffy joined the women’s design unit of Tristan Russo as Vice President and President respectively. Early collections favoured tactile fabrics such as angora, mohair and cashmere with occasional forays into more modern neon coloured fabrics. Jacobs became known for injecting contemporary bursts of energy and kitsch into his designs.
Known amongst critics and consumers as a barometer of what’s hot and what’s not, Jacobs has a knack for launching trends and dictating the direction of a season’s style. The Marc Jacobs look has its roots in his American upbringing, often featuring preppy collegiate styles, bright colours, oversized prints, garment layering, plentiful kitsch embellishment including bows and buttons and pretty party frocks. An element of grunge has always been at the heart of Marc Jacobs’ designs, more overtly in his diffusion line. There are always ladylike elements to his ranges and a certain sense of ingénue without them ever seeming overly sweet or saccharine. Kitsch whimsical designs are subverted with startling colour choices or fantastical detailing.
Many of his collections make references to the past, generally from the 1940s through to the 1980s. This has attracted some criticism from some of his contemporaries; Oscar de la Renta branded him a “mere copyist”. However Jacobs is seen by many as a design visionary and he says of his own designs “what I prefer is that even if someone feels hedonistic, they don't look it. Curiosity about sex is much more interesting to me than domination. ... My clothes are not hot. Never. Never.”
In the mid nineties Jacobs was appointed Creative Director of French luxury atelier Louis Vuitton where he instigated the company’s first ready-to-wear line. He brought his youthful design aesthetic to the conservative company and used it to provide what the New York Times called ‘caviar’ clothes for elite 30 something women who appreciated his witty designs but desired a more classic and mature look. Louis Vuitton has gone on to become one of the world’s most desired brands thanks greatly to Marc Jacobs’ vision.
The diffusion line Marc by Marc Jacobs was launched at the turn of the century. Its youthful pieces resonate with certain elements of contemporary youth culture. The signature look is art student meets preppy mix and match, interspersed with bright clashing colours and patterns. Mainline Marc Jacobs is more luxurious and grown-up, providing aspirational eye candy for shoppers of its more affordable younger line. Marc by Marc Jacobs was seen as the first time two brands under the same umbrella company truly successfully appealed to two very different consumer demographics.
Favoured by New York’s downtown crowd, Marc Jacobs’ notable fans include Winona Ryder, Maggie Gyllenhall, Sofia Coppola and Scarlett Johansson. His wide range of muses have included Ms Coppola, Charlotte Rampling, Dakota Fanning and Victoria Beckham, all of whom have been photographed by Juergen Teller for Marc Jacobs advertising campaigns. Mrs Beckham was shown nestled inside a Marc Jacobs shopping bag after Teller persuaded her that she was “just a product”.
Arguably one of the most influential fashion designers in the world, Jacobs also produces a highly successful range of accessories. Marc Jacobs handbags are known for their chic versatility with styles ranging from utility to ultra feminine. Most notable amongst his array of designs are Jacobs’ quilted and patchwork creations which are toughened up with metallic hard-wear. Other classic designs come in a rainbow of leather colours, exotic skins or more modern fabrics.