A post about coming out with the truth, a new documentary, changing jobs, changing one's perspective, and the neologism of the great Marc Jacobs...
I’m a very loyal person. Once I find that I love something there’s very little that can steer me off course. I will admit one caveat to this however, and that would be the root-down fickleness I feel concerning Mr. Marc Jacobs. One day I love him, the next I'm crying foul. Let's face it, if he we were dating I'd break up with him...but how can one break with the proverbial master of the fashion universe? You can't. You just have to sit back and wear it.
I know, I know… I’m going to get an ear-full from tweens and self-proclaimed “fashion insiders” coast-to-coast who will petulantly take me to task for even questioning the demagogue, but I shall press on. It is this very kind of blind adoration that pushes my philosophical buttons to ask more and more questions. However, like every true philosopher, I am not disinclined to change my perspective and appreciate opposing viewpoints. I’m big enough to admit that I too am under the Marc Jacobs spell; I find myself captivated by his concepts, his unabashed exploration at the fringes of fashion, his joy and humor. I whole-heartedly appreciate all of this, but will not always buy into it without hesitation.
Spring 2007 - this dress gets embroidered, and re-embroidered in Prigent's filmLuckily, a new touchstone has been produced to help heathen non-believers like myself to see the MJ God-light. I just picked up Loïc Prigent’s wonderful documentary Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton at the Marc by Marc Jacobs store in my neighborhood. (That’s Fillmore Street kiddies – not Bleecker.) I’ve watched it and all of the extras twice already and I’m truly beginning to understand the man. In fact, I find Mr. Jacobs to be funny, caring, sweet, overwhelmingly creative, and a sharp visionary. All this while wearing a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups t-shirt and Stan Smith sneakers featuring Kermit the Frog. How I wish he were a friend of mine.
Watching the film has made me appreciate the roots of his inspiration and the thousands of meditative choices that go into each detail of his designs. The design team at Vuitton jokingly attribute these design days and their tiny eurekas as the “good fairies” – the spirits that are really designing everything. Seeing this creative process reminded me of the hours of critiques I participated in during art and design school – asking the creators about every facet of their choices and concepts. Oh, how I miss those days! The ideas, the training of the eye, the discussions, the research…
In fact, the film did make me more than a little sad, but in a bitter-sweet way. Why? Well, here comes the big reveal: my previous job was in the corporate offices at Louis Vuitton. Yes, for five years and eleven seasons I whittled down the nuances of the Marc Jacobs designs into selling points and features for associates. (It was such a long time and such an insider viewpoint that I used to feel like I knew the designer, and therefore could openly call “bullshit” on the more avant-garde design ideas. When you’re that entrenched, you need to do this kind of thing to keep your perspective.) Fashion is truly my first love, and I loved every moment of working there…until I didn’t any more. The design had nothing to do with it – I still love and appreciate the Jacobs-Vuitton partnership as a driving force of luxury and trends, but it was simply time for me to move on. If only Loïc Prigent’s film had debuted a few years ago! I might still be in love with the place professionally. The film is especially poignant for me because it follows Jacobs during the creation of his Spring 2007 collection – my final collection with the house.
A Look Back... Nine of my eleven seasons:
Spring 2002 - "Conte des Fees"
Fall 2002 - "Hitchcock"
Spring 2003 - "LV PinUp"
Fall 2003 - "Mod/OpArt"
Spring 2003 - "Desert Goddess"
Fall 2004 - "Scotland/Tissot"
Spring 2005 - "The Circus"
Fall 2005 - "Weiner Werkstatte"
Spring 2006 - "Las Vegas"
In any industry there is usually a disconnect between the glamorous creative factions and the hard-working, dollar-generating, grass-roots salespeople. This was certainly a truth at Vuitton. I found that the mystery and excitement of the design process (which would have helped to motivate employees) was largely missing – or never trickled down past regional merchant teams. This is sad, because as anyone knows, companies like this make money from the bottom up. It’s the little creative details, insights into the process that both employees and customers alike want to hear about; yes, the handbags will sell themselves, but everyone likes to be clued in to the cult of the tastemaker.
As Cathy Horyn wrote in her review “The Handbag Gets the Last Word” in The New York Times earlier this week:
“The handbag increasingly occupies a curious place in the hierarchy of fashion, at once kingpin and jokester. It drives sales and elicits contempt from those who believe it is responsible for a creative dumbing-down within the fashion industry. Nonetheless, as a visual form, the handbag keeps evolving and surprising us, and Mr. Jacobs has done more to influence that than anyone else.”
And who is Marc Jacobs? You don’t really get to learn much about the man as a person in this film, except for two things: his new diet regimen is utterly insane, and that he doesn’t own much except for an amazing art collection. During the few moments of leisure time depicted in the film you see him considering a Picabia painting, while he admits to an art dealer that his most recent purchases were from Ed Ruscha and Richard Prince. Ah, Richard Prince. Yes, that makes the recent Spring 2008 collection come into an entirely new light!
Spring 2008 - a Richard Prince Vuitton bag on the runwayCarrying on the tradition (one I know intimately) of Stephen Sprouse, Julie Verhoeven and Takashi Murakami, Richard Prince has stepped in for a new collaboration with Marc Jacobs for a line of handbags. From the images already available, the colorful screen prints appear to be sublimely beautiful as well as whimsical. Vuitton certainly has another hit on its hands.
Loïc Prigent was able to chronicle the development of one such show-stopping handbag in the film – the “Tribute” bag from Spring 2007. This was a high point of the film for me as the creation of this piece was no laughing matter. The gigantic beast broke a number of machines and tested the patience of more than a few master craftsmen in the Vuitton ateliers. But, it proved itself to be a true work of art, regardless of how it looks. (If you remember, this bag brought up all kinds of questions earlier this year about Beaudrillard, semiotics, and downright madness among the consumer class. It was nice to have the film bring it all full circle.)
Here is another point of discovery: the film calls it Marc Jacobs’ “neologism” but this isn’t quite right. He doesn’t invent a new word at all, not even a new concept, it’s just that he’s so consistent with its exploration that he’s beginning to own it. What concept? The idea of “ugly-beautiful.” The film frequently shows Jacobs asking “is it good, or is it horrible? Or is it so horrible that it’s good? Or maybe it’s just horrible…” In one scene he says to his longtime business partner Patrick Duffy: “It’s really good but it’s really ugly. I know that and I like that – don’t worry.”
Why should anyone worry? After all, if it carries the label of Marc Jacobs it’s sure to sell. I’m a little sold myself. After all this time and experience I feel like I’m only just beginning to know Marc Jacobs. I’ll always question his design if I find it too far out in his ugly-beautiful realm, but I appreciate the concept much more after seeing his process. It’s part of his humor, his push, his pursuit of something other in an industry that is increasingly “everyday.” Loïc Prigent’s film shows this to be inherent in the man – it’s no bullshit at all. While this won’t make me stop questioning things, I will say my perspective has changed for the better. I’ve found that where I once thought I knew everything, I really don’t know much at all – and that’s always good to know.