For someone in an industry as notoriously fickle as fashion, Marc Jacobs has remarkable staying powernot that hes ever likely to take his success for granted. His legendary work ethic (rebel without a pause was how one publication characterized him) has taken him to heights unmatched by any American designer, but his response to each success is to work even harder to sustain it the next time. Although he can sometimes sound like an anxious freshman looking for approval, its been 13 years since he showed his first collectiona year after being fired by Perry Ellis for scaring the corporate pigeons with a womens line inspired by Courtney Love, an early example of his pop-culture instincts. Over the years his friends and muses have also included Winona Ryder, Kate Moss, and Lil Kim. Im always very drawn to fallen angels, he concedes, not without a hint of irony given his own battles with drugs and alcohol. In 1999 his friends, led by his long-term business partner, Robert Duffy, pretty much dragged him to rehab, most likely saving his life.
Never one to do anything by half measures, Jacobswho divides his time between New York and Paris, where he helms fashion behemoth Louis Vuittonis now on an extreme diet and exercise regimen that was punctuated by a less serious rehab stint earlier this year. His reappearance at the Paris fashion shows in June prompted a wave of media speculation on his dramatic makeover, and not a little misanthropic sniggering on the Web. Right now I feel better about the way I look than Ive ever felt, he says, dismissing the bloggers who equate a tan and abs with selling out. He also sounds like a man learning to live more easily with himself. In a strikingly candid interview he talks about his insecurities, his first gay crush, and why theres no such thing as a bad trend in fashion.
AARON HICKLIN: I last saw you dressed as a pigeon at your holiday costume ball. It seems that a lot has changed since then.
MARC JACOBS: Since I was a pigeon? No, nothings changed at all.
Well, there was rehab.
Oh, in terms of going into rehab again Well, I wasnt drinking or drugging daily or anything like that. When I first went into rehab in 2000, I really had a horrible problem. I was a daily drug user and abusing alcohol, and I went against my will. It was [my business partner] Robert Duffy and how much he cared about meI just had no choice, so he kind of saved my life in 2000. Ive had many years of continued sobriety, but around November 2005, I was in Russia, had a couple of drinks, got drunk, and a couple of months later I was in Hong Kong, got drunk again. I was sort of doing it periodically, and as anyone who has a problem with drinking and drugging knows, its a steady progression. Its like someone who goes off their diet. If youre serious about your diet you catch yourself and say, This is not what I want to do. I dont want to start overeating.
Of course, the culture we live in now is such a fishbowl that nothing passes without a snarky comment on the Web.
I dont care about all that shit. Im very outspoken and honest. Im the first to say that Im gay, that Im insecure, that I have certain hang-ups, that Ive been dependent on drugs or alcohol, so I dont really hide things with the fear that theyre going to be revealed on some blog. Youre going to get a bunch of blogs saying He must be on meth in order to be that skinny compared to 10 months ago, but in fact Im eating a totally organic diet, which has no flour, no sugar, no dairy, and no caffeine, and I lost weight because of that diet and because of a two and a half hour exercise regimen seven days a week.
Have you become immune over time to gossip or just learned to disguise your sensitivities?
No, I am sensitive, and it does create problems for me. I mean, theres part of me that really loves the attention, so theres that side of it. But the side thats sad is how much people love that kind of negativitythe bad newsand how that, unfortunately, allows certain people to feel better about their own lives. I think it exists in everyone to a certain extent, and Im not going to exclude myself. I do sometimes, with my own insecurities, feel better about my abilities when someone else doesnt do so well, someone Im envious of.
And what are your insecurities?
Theres a lot of them. I mean, right now I feel better about the way I look than Ive ever felt, which makes a huge difference, but I used to really hate seeing my own reflection in the mirror, and Im not talking about in a drug- or alcohol-induced stateI mean in general. I just hid behind clothes, and I didnt really care about what I wore, and I didnt care about my skin or my hairI just felt like, Theres nothing more I can do to look more attractivewhats the point? and believing that, I just avoided having my picture taken. But I do feel better since Ive been going to the gym and keeping on this diet, and also I find Ive been taking time for myself. Im doing all the things I used to make fun of. Id always say, The idea of a guy who spends an hour in his bathroom every morning, grooming and picking out his clothes, thats just not me, Id never do that, but you know whatI really enjoy doing that now.
Its somewhat ironic given that youre in the business of making other people look and feel good about themselves.
Right, and as a kid I thought, God, Id love to work in a pizza parlor because Id get to eat pizza all day, but the reality is that if you work in a pizza parlor, I doubt you want to eat pizza all day. The funny thing is, going back to the blogs, theres a bunch of people whove said, Oh, we liked the way he used to look, when he was grungy, and now he just looks like every Chelsea queen, blah blah blah, and I just think, You know what, Im just going to do what makes me happy. And Im the same exact person, so if my haircut is too Chelsea for somebody, and if Ive changed from funny awkward 70s reading glasses to contact lenses, and if Im tan now and in slightly better shape, well, its too bad. My behavior and my likes and dislikes are the same.
Has insecure Marc Jacobs vanished along with the funny 70s reading glasses?
No, Im terribly insecure. I have a million choices to make every day. The thing is, I do base a lot of my self-worth on the opinion of other people. Im not only what I do for a living, but it is a huge part of my life, so the opinion of others, whether critics, customers, or friends, does really affect me, and that is a huge breeding ground for insecurity.
But youre one of the great American designers; you must have reached a point where you can say Ive done it?
No, the reality is that we have to prove ourselves over and over again. Its not like weve reached a certain point and were on cruise control: Youve got to work harder and harder each time, not only to maintain but to better yourself and improve. The forward movement is what Im interested in, in terms of growth, in terms of learning. Like everyone I know, what gives me the most pleasure also gives me the most pain. Its like at the gymthe harder I work out, the more I sweat, the sorer I am the next day, the more likely it is that Ive gained.
But you also need balance.
Well, and that is the key to all of my problems. Im a very black-and-white person. Im feast or famine. Ill work out seven days a week or none at all; Ill work all hours of the day or as little as possible. Balance is something that Ive just not been able to obtain. The one thing thats helped me to achieve some sort of balance is my life between New York and Paris, because Paris is a lot calmer and slower-moving than New York. I find myself at home at 8 oclock for dinner, and Ill walk the dogs, and Im in bed before midnight. When I have a few hours to myself in Paris, I feel like a success, and when I have a few hours to myself in New York, I feel like a failure, because in New York theres always dinners to go to, gallery openings to go to, movie premieres, partiesits just so full-on. If balance comes to me in any way, its through being in two places. I live in a bit of a bubble here.
Do you consider yourself an outsider?
Yeah, I do, I really dont believe I fit in any of the worlds that weve mentioned. I feel slightly comfortable sometimes in each world, but never like I really belong to any of them. Theres never really been that moment where Ive said, Wow, these are my people, this is where Im comfortable.
Do you feel awkward at times?
Yeah, most of the time. I have an ability to be a chameleon, so I am able to adapt to an environment on the outside, but the internal stuff is complete awkwardness and discomfort.
Youve obviously found a soul mate in your business partner, Robert Duffy.
Yeah, Ive known him longer and been closer to him than any other human being, relative, friend, or anything, and not as loverseverby the way.
I love that Naomi Campbell stepped in to intervene on your behalf the first time you went to rehab.
She did, but shes a very, very good friend of mine. Naomi has an uncanny ability to know whats going on with me, whether I tell her myself or not, and its not through gossip either. Shes just very intuitive and very sensitive. I met her when she was really young and I was starting out as a designer too, and we really became friendly from our first meeting, and weve always been completely honest with each other.
Yet the public perception of Naomi is very different, one-dimensional.
Shes a human being, you know. Let he who is free of sin cast the first stone is just my favorite saying. Im always very drawn to fallen angels, and I really believe everyone is born perfect and good, and we all make mistakes.
Your father died when you were 7; you were raised largely with your grandmother. How much of who you are goes back to your unorthodox childhood?
I look at the positive side of all the negative things that happened to me. That, again, is a choice of perspective, and Ive only learned in the past decade how important that sense of perspective can be. My sister and brother and I all grew up under the same circumstances, and I dont think it strengthened them in the way it strengthened me, but then, others would also look at my strengths as weaknesses.
Do you have any nostalgia for your childhood?
No, I dont have nostalgia for anything, really.
Which is odd, because so much of fashion is informed by sentiment and nostalgia.
I guess on a certain level I love old clothes, I love knowing about the 20s, the 60s, the 70s, the 80s, and certainly I have a lot of great memories, but theyre just nice thoughts that get added to the human hard drive and then you can access it as you want. Whatever impulses or feelings come up for me is how Im going to respond or react, but its not a longing or nostalgic desire to live or re-create or fix past events.
I guess thats one definition of being, as we say, fashion-forward. What trends most excite you right now?
Kind of all of them. Its so amazing to me how into fashion the majority of people I come across are. It doesnt really matter what the trend is or what the look isyouve got to have one, so I find its like a cartoon world out there where everyones sort of playing dress-up, and thats why I say there are no bad trends. I dont care if youre doing the sleazy suburban look or a nerd look or a jock look. It reminds me of the voguing balls from years ago where people used to dress to pass as a certain type of person in society. Young people have always dressed as their idols, but I think weve greater accessibility to how those people look today.
How about sex? Is that part of fashion for you?
I dont think clothes are sexual; I think people are sexual. You can always tell somebodys sexywhether theyre wearing a big old baggy tracksuit or a skintight, low-cut dress. But everything affects me and what I do, whether Im in a relationship or wanting to be in a relationship or obsessing over someone. Lately the shows weve been doing in New York have been these tableaus of my inner worldwhatevers going on, whatever perversity. Its not manifesting itself in a low-cut, slinky floor-length gown with beads in it, but thats not to say it isnt informed by a lot of sexual tension.
When did you realize you were gay?
I was in sleepaway camp, and there was a counselor, and we all had to take showers together and that kind of thing. It was weird. I was always teased by other kids for being gay before Id ever had any kind of sexual contact with another man, and I was always afraid of what it meant [to be gay], but I was also very excited by it because I couldnt deny to myself that I found naked men really attractive, especially my camp counselor. I just thought he was the most exciting, sexual thing Id ever seen in my life. And I was turned on by the images of naked men, as opposed to the images of naked women.
Where were you seeing those images?
Well, my mother would read Viva magazine and Playgirlit was those kinds of things.
What kind of guy is attractive to you?
Well, in the past what was attractive to me was unavailable people, but Ive moved on. Im trying to correct that kind of thinking and behavior now.
Theres been a lot of speculation about your relationship with Jason Preston [invariably prefaced in reports as a former rent boy]. Did that upset you?
No. I had a relationship with him, and it was crazy, and sometimes it was a lot of fun, and sometimes it was not a lot of fun, and the biggest frustration was that I wanted him to be something he wasnt, and I dont mean on a social level, and I dont mean about his past or anything like thatI just mean that I wanted to come home and have somebody be available and have conversations and just to be there. And Jason is a young guy who wanted to go out and party and do his thing, and it just wasnt there. I dont think there was any chemistryits just that we both do enjoy each others company on occasion. Were better off as friends.
Do you think the kinds of guys that attract you are the kinds of guys that make it harder for you to stay sober?
No, I dont think soagain, when I first met Jason I was completely sober, and I had no problems staying or being sober for the first few months I met him. Of course, I think its so much more complicated than that. In order to be with him, because he wasnt happy staying in, I ended up going out more to be with him. First of all, Ive done that all already, and secondly, I just ended up in situations where, in order to be entertained or in order to stay out, I would drink or partake in drugs or whatever, but I cant really blame him. I was changing my value system and what I believed in order to be with somebody, and none of that can make a relationship thats not working really work.
But the people were attracted to arent always the best people for us, are they?
Well, it depends where you are. Right now I cant even imagine being attracted to someone who isnt in a healthy place on all levels. So I have to not be in the healthiest place in order to be attracted to someone like that. Again, I own my feelings and accept that stuff. Its like, if Im not in the greatest place, then chances are Ill seek things that are like that.
Are you in a relationship now?
Do you want to be?
Thats a good question. I would like to be in the right relationship, of course. I am a romantic to a certain extentId love to share my life with someone who wants to share their life with me. But I dont want to sit in a rocking chair and commiserate or have breakfast when two people read newspapers and dont talk to each otherthats not the relationship Im looking for. I like living.