“When I first moved here, my life was just like a frustrated version of what my life had been in New York,” Jacobs says. He didn’t (and still doesn’t) speak French. He didn’t like the food, the pace, the absence of multiethnic, all-hours takeout food. But, sober, he began to enjoy the city’s gentler rhythms: the quieter nightlife, the diminished options and temptations. Now his life is centered around two dogs and an apartment in a bougie corner of the 8th Arrondissement by the Champs de Mars, surrounded by families and diplomats and the odd tourist on his way to the Eiffel Tower. “I always get this certain anxiety when I’m in New York,” Jacobs says. “I see these billboards and Websites and movie openings and galleries and everyone’s like, ‘Have you seen Desperate Housewives? Have you seen The O.C.?’ I start hyperventilating. How can you stay on top of the art scene and what’s on TV, and read all those books? In New York, I just feel paralyzed by all that I’m missing. I feel stupid, uninformed. I don’t feel like that as much in Paris. It’s healthier for me.”
Still, there’s plenty to worry about. “Everything is growing and there’s just way too much to do,” he says. On this July morning, he’s just back from a vacation that included a trip to the Venice Biennale and Art Basel, and he’s realized that his nose is too congested to approve the box of fragrance sitting in the corner. (He’s signed off on it, anyway. “I’ll smell it when I can,” he says, shrugging.)
“Sometimes I find it quite upsetting because I feel like a fraud. It’s not like I ever believed that any one designer does absolutely everything, but . . . ” He gestures around the conference room: His favorite Diptyque candle (scent: Baies) was lit in advance in a divalike move that reminds one that Jacobs is a fashion designer. That wet hair, that dirty shirt, those awkward plastic glasses all involve precise forethought and calculation. He may not be the kind of designer who, as he puts it, “calls people doll and darling,” but he is a designer nonetheless, and a powerful one at that.
“I often feel uncomfortable,” Jacobs says. “I have this feeling like this is only going to be good as long as it’s good. Am I always full of ideas? No. Those things don’t happen every six months. It’s not even like, You have to change the shape of handbags and the luxury market. It’s like, This has to change the shape of history. And I don’t know how to calculate that. I really don’t.”
Last February, at the 26th Street Armory, after an excruciating 90-minute wait, Jacobs showed one of the strongest collections of his career. It was dark and it was gothic; the clothes were enormous, lush, and truly beautiful. They were more challenging than one tends to see in New York from such a major designer—it wasn’t easy for the untrained eye to understand, immediately, how so much velvet could ultimately be worn.
Jacobs, for once, was completely satisfied with his work. “It was a great feeling,” he says. “I wasn’t searching for inspiration, I was finding it everywhere I turned. It was T. J. Wilcox, Violet and the Incredibles, Tim Burton. Mostly, it was all the fallen angels in my life. I just think everyone’s an angel, and an angel is a perfect thing. Now I’m going into storybook land, but it’s the imperfection or the trip that I like. We’re all human, and we’re not supposed to be perfect, but there are certain girls who make mistakes, and I just love that. I love the strength to move forward. It’s very hard to be someone publicly, and then to be human and honest at the same time, say, ‘Yeah, I did that. Yeah, I’m human.’ It’s a dark angel, not dark like an evil spirit, it’s a melancholy, broken, dark soul. It’s a good thing.”
Jacobs claims that he does almost nothing in pursuit of celebrities—“I’m dead set against courting people,” he says—and yet no fashion show on Earth draws the type of crowd that Jacobs’s does.
“I look out there before my shows, and it’s like in a movie, where the transparent me sees the real me and all of these people are there, and I just can’t believe it. And every time I’m like, What did you do in your life to deserve this?”
But he is not without his own celebrity pantheon—the darker heroines like Coppola, Winona Ryder, Christina Ricci, Chloë Sevigny, Sonic Youth rocker Kim Gordon.
“I think it’s hilarious when different fashion houses do ads with models with electric guitars. Marc always says, ‘I’m not cool, I’m a nerd, blah blah blah,’ ” says Gordon. “People are always saying that about us, too, about Sonic Youth, that my daughter is so lucky to have such a cool mom, but that’s always the last way that I feel. It’s very hard to really be authentic or make deep creative products if your foremost thing is being really cool. You have to have a full range of emotion, and Marc has that.”