Their contract renewal, finally signed in 2004, took a year to hammer out. But this time, thanks to their phenomenal sales, they had leverage, and mass global expansion is well under way. And Jacobs is behaving himself: He used to speak openly, on the record, about how difficult life was with Arnault. Now, when he mentions Arnault, he refers to him as a distant and demanding father, but one who’s started to reward Jacobs for good behavior: dinner with Isabelle Huppert, for example, and, of course, more and more money for Marc Jacobs.
Regarding Arnault, Jacobs says, “In so many ways, I’ve always felt like this little boy trying to please a father.”
Jacobs was born in New York City, but his own father died when he was 7, and after that, he moved around a lot. His mother remarried three times, and with each marriage came a move—New Jersey, and then Huntington, Long Island. There was a year in the Bronx, while his mother cared for her dying father, and then back to New Jersey again.
As a teenager, Jacobs decided he’d had enough. He moved in with his father’s mother on the Upper West Side, to a grand Beaux-Arts apartment in the Majestic, on 72nd and Central Park West. Jacobs’s grandmother was a bit of an Auntie Mame—she’d traveled and had an appreciation for beautiful things, particularly those designed by her grandson. “I always say I lived my life with my grandmother,” Jacobs says. “She was emotionally stable, and she was very encouraging to me.”
The death of his grandmother in 1987 marked the last meaningful relationship he’d have with any member of his family. “I don’t really wish for it,” he says, and he appears to really mean it. “There was a time when my brother and my sister and I tried. I never get the sense they wanted much to do with me, and I never wanted much to do with them. At one point there was a little bit about them wanting to borrow some money, but then I never heard from them again.”
After Arnault hired him in 1997, Jacobs’s partying—such a glamorous crutch for the insecure “poseur”—got out of control. “It’s a cliché,” Jacobs says, “but when I drank I was taller, funnier, smarter, cooler.” Using cocaine and even heroin almost nightly, Jacobs stopped showing up, got thrown off airplanes, and pissed off his staff, who ultimately found their boss’s debauchery a pain in the ass. “I would come into work and fall straight to sleep,” Jacobs says, “and then I would tell everyone to come in on a Saturday because we were behind, and then I wouldn’t show up.”
Every frustrating move by Jacobs was countered with extreme generosity by Duffy: thoughtful gifts for the staff, extravagant parties.
“More than anything, I hurt for him,” Duffy says paternally. “Marc’s my family. I was just becoming overprotective of him.”
The relationship was precarious, however, when it came to dealing with LVMH. “They didn’t want to hear any complaints,” Duffy says. “They just kept wanting more product for Vuitton, and I was fighting for Marc Jacobs. It was awful. I mean, I wanted to take drugs! And it was so hard, because I know that Marc is someone who’s in a lot of pain, and I was just letting him destroy himself, and I couldn’t talk about it. Those four years are why I went gray.”
“It was so hard, because I know that Marc is someone who’s in a lot of pain, and I was just letting him destroy himself,” says Duffy about Jacobs’s early years at LVMH. “Those four years are why I went gray.”
One of Duffy’s greatest talents is for hiring, and he assembled a sort of global fashion dream team: He got stylists like Katie Grand and Venetia Scott. Camille Miceli, Chanel’s impossibly chic French public-relations director, was lured to Vuitton with the promise of creative input. (She now designs Vuitton’s fashion accessories.)
Ultimately, two people contacted Duffy directly to insist that something be done about Jacobs’s addictions. One was Anna Wintour, who had realized that the designer she’d been aggressively championing for years was now getting thrown off airplanes. The other was Naomi Campbell.
Duffy flew to Paris, explained the situation to Arnault—who, Duffy says, “respects creativity”—and checked Jacobs into a rehab center in Arizona. Jacobs kicked and screamed—couldn’t it wait until the collection was over? How about next season?
Ultimately, though, Jacobs acquiesced. “Finally, I just felt like, for someone who had always wanted to be in fashion more than anything, I wasn’t doing it,” Jacobs says. “I wasn’t even participating. But even still, Robert was the only person who could’ve made me do it.”
“I can only do so much,” says Jacobs, lighting at least his fifth cigarette on a hot Paris morning. He’s just arrived at work, late-padding through the grand, slick, triple-height lobby of the Louis Vuitton headquarters on the rue du Pont Neuf, dressed in his signature look—which is an aggressive un-look: wet hair frizzing at its ends, dirty-ish T-shirt—resembling more a bike messenger or an intern than the head of a French luxury brand. The offices are more formal than his office in New York, where visitors are greeted by racks of clothes and a baby-faced, blond-haired receptionist boy in a pair of scruffy jeans.