Calvin Klein Interviews Marc Jacobs

Harper's Bazaar have roped in two fashion designers to sit down together: both fashion design legends, Calvin Klein sits down with Marc Jacobs at the Mercer hotel in New York. The designers discuss Marc's latest fragrance Bang, for which he controversially posed nude in the advertisement campaign. They also chat about life, health and what else? fashion of course.

Here is the interview, courtesy of Harper's Bazaar:

CALVIN KLEIN: I’d like to talk about the fragrance. How would you describe it?
MARC JACOBS: I like it! But no, it’s important to say that because I thought this had to be something I would wear and use and want. So it was in the gym that I came up with the name Bang, like bang! That’s it. Then I thought about what I loved and about spices in particular. So I talked to the people at Coty and I said, “I really like pepper—black, white, yellow, pink peppercorns, pepper fragrance—and I want to wear it.” And then we talked about the bottle and the packaging and the image.
Robert [Duffy], my business partner, said, “I think you’re in really good shape, and you should do the ads.” I had to come up with references where I felt that that was a good idea. I had to find, for me, someone who had done it that made it okay for me to be in it. So, of course, I came up with the famous Yves Saint Laurent image by Jeanloup Sieff, and I thought, Well, there's someone I respect and admire, and if he can take off his clothes—and it also made a lot of sense because, fashionwise, I'm not a guy who's sartorial. I'm not Tom Ford in terms of the grooming and the knowledge of clothes and the precision and perfection of getting dressed. There's nothing I can wear in this ad that isn't going to look ridiculous. At one point, I tried jeans and a shirt, and it didn't work. So then Juergen said, "Take off the clothes." So I did, and that became the ad.

CK: I thought you were sending a message that this is a very personal fragrance; it’s about sex and scent.
MJ: There is so much going on in one’s head when you do these things.

CK: But people don’t know that Juergen asked you to take your clothes off. You see a naked body, and you think of sex.
MJ: I guess the thing is, I’m kind of tortured by the thought that goes into getting there, so it demystifies the whole end result. I know too much to believe the end result [of nudity].

CK: Was it subconscious?
MJ: Well, I did feel good about the way I looked, so it was easy and—well, a guy looks better to me with no clothes on than with clothes! How’s that?

CK: Women do too.   
MJ: Some women and some men.

CK: So then you are thinking whether the scent should be romantic or sexy or green and woodsy and outdoors? And then you're involved with the packaging and the bottle and everything.   
MJ: Everything. I always say we need a name first, and the name has to evoke something. And then Bang. It had a sexual connotation. It's kind of affirmative: done, a sort of statement, no screwing around.

CK: In a sense, like the clothes, the fragrances are very personal to you. You're personally involved in the concept; it's a part of you.
MJ: the thing is, as you know, not only here today, here with you, I spent two weeks in the showroom talking about Bang with every journalist. I can't promote something I feel I haven't had anything to do with. I'm so uncomfortable because I feel like a fraud; it's my name on the label, yet I can’t say I did it. I’m constantly crediting my team—and with the women’s too—because I sleep better at night knowing I’ve been really honest with what my part in it is and who else was involved in making it. I feel better about that. Who needs to direct and run the world? But I am a part of it.

CK: I’ve had conversations with designer friends who have teams, and we all agree that it’s easier to do whatever you’re doing by yourself. But when you have a team, people think it all happens so easily, and it doesn’t.
MJ: You have to be a good caster, a good babysitter, a good father. And you have to be sensitive and be an ear, and everybody has an ego. It’s just human.

CK: With your menswear collection, do you look at the clothes and say, Would I wear this?
MJ: In terms of having a business, I wanted to let it go beyond what my personal taste is. Basically, I’m in a kilt and a white shirt every day. So, you know, I don’t have a lot of scope, and I’m really picky about what I wear. Even if it’s weird, it’s very particular to me. And you can’t make a business out of what I would wear. We’d be out of business.

CK: I doubt that. But I think there’s definitely a woman who identifies with your aesthetic. It’s a very strong point of view, whether it’s the accessories, the fragrances, the advertising—it’s clear.
MJ: It feels almost in spite of ourselves. I guess when I look over my shoulder at other designers, I feel like people are so definitive. It’s so clear to me what their aesthetic is, what they’re projecting. And I look at my own work and I think, Who could ever decipher what the hell is going on?

CK: I think they do. Not everyone, because you’re not appealing to everyone, but you’re appealing to people who get it. Other than the fragrances and the clothes and the accessories, what about you? You’ve got the naked picture; that’s a really big deal. I read somewhere that you were working out two and a half hours a day, six days a week. And on this diet that was very strict.
MJ: I had 21 percent body fat four years ago. I was in and out of the hospital because I had flare-ups of ulcerative colitis. I’d be in the office for 16 hours a day, six of which were in the bathroom because I was so ill. I ate nothing but junk food. Basically, the doctor said, “We’re going to have to remove your colon.” And I said, “I’m not doing that!”

So I went to a nutritionist named Lindsey Duncan, and he said, “If you are 100 percent compliant with what I tell you to do, you will be in better shape than you’ve ever been in, and you will not have to have your colon removed.” I said, “Okay, sign me up.” He said no caffeine, no sugar, no white flour, no dairy from a cow, take açaí every morning, goji, noni, mangosteen, et cetera, omega-3, wheatgrass shots with ginger. The list is endless.
He said, “You gotta laugh every day, you gotta rest every day, and you have to perspire every day, which means you have to go to the gym.” I hadn’t stepped foot in a gym. Well, I hadn’t walked a block in 20 years. So I started, and like everything—I say this, and I hope it’s not misinterpreted, but I like what makes me feel better. That probably doesn’t come as a shock.
When I started to feel better, and when my stomach wasn’t hurting, and when I wasn’t on the toilet all day, and when I could look at myself in the mirror, and when I went from 21 percent body fat to 5 percent body fat and I had muscle, I was like, This is great!
When guys started looking at me and asking me out on dates, I felt way better about myself. So it was hard to keep my clothes on, actually. And whenever I was asked to take my clothes off, I was like, “Sure! I haven’t worked out for three years to keep this all under wraps.” Everything changed. I cut my hair, I got contact lenses, I started to groom and get manicures and pedicures. I started to get my hair cut every two weeks.
Before, I never took care of my appearance. I was like, “Who cares? I’m in the studio 16 hours a day, and nobody sees me.” Everything, it all sort of changed. My home life changed. I wanted to have people over for dinner. I cared about interiors because I wanted to have guests over all the time.

CK: And what about the work?
MJ: It affected it so much. I became so much more confident, so much more trusting. It’s sometimes said that I’m rebellious and I do things to push people’s buttons, but I just like the challenge. I feel like full form lately. For so many years, I felt so insecure, so inferior, and I still have those moments, but I have a newfound confidence since I got in shape and changed my diet.
After three months, my nutritionist asked me, “Have you noticed anything different?” and I said, “No, I’m miserable. I’m home all alone. I’m eating the worst tasteless, bland food.” And he said, “But how do people tell you you look?” And I said, “Well, people say I look better than ever.” And he asked, “How does that make you feel?” So I responded, “Well, if you look at it that way, that makes me feel better.” I thought it was a very interesting thing. That’s the first step—to feel good about yourself. Then, when the critics say something positive about your clothes, it builds you up and you say, “Oh, I’m gonna do more of this because it feels good!” It doesn’t mean it’s always going to work, but the attitude going into it is different.

CK: Your health and the way you feel and the way your body feels are the result of diet and exercise. That’s a very big deal. It’s very easy to let yourself go when you’re busy and justify it or find the excuse, like, I can’t be bothered.
MJ: I told the nutritionist, “I don’t have time for all this stuff,” and he said, “Well, you’re not going to have much time left. You’re burning the candle at both ends. You’re working in two different countries. You’re jet-lagged all the time. You’re sick all the time. How much time do you really think you have left if you don’t do something?”

CK: How do you put a collection together? Where does it start? What is your inspiration?
MJ: I usually start out by saying I have no idea what we’re doing, because I don’t. It starts out the same way every time. I just sit there with my team, and I say, “Does anyone have any ideas, anyone have any thoughts?” I’m terrible with a blank piece of paper, so I can’t get started looking at nothing. But if someone shows me six pieces of fabric, I’ll say, “I don’t like this, I don’t like this, but that’s interesting.” And that interesting thing might not last. But it’s a catalyst, and it gets the ball rolling.
I’m very arbitrary. I like to take on the thing I don’t like at the moment. I like to find something that looks wrong or feels off, something that I would never have done in the past, like brocade. And then all of a sudden, if we can make brocade work, then we’ve really done something, because I hate it. And that’s just a reference. I don’t actually hate brocade.

CK: Often there is inspiration, though. Is there something you can point to?
MJ: It’s usually a spirit more than anything. At one point, I got really into this melancholy mood. The New York collection is really a reflection of my personal life. It’s not literally a reflection, but it definitely permeates. [For fall] we wanted to do something that was quite sober and very pretty in color, with just touches of yellow. It was the most beige and gray collection I’ve ever done in my life, really very little pattern. We looked at old photographs, and it wasn’t the images in the photographs that were interesting; it was the sepia tones, the blacks and whites and grays. It was this feeling of a quiet beauty, and that came right after a season when we said we’d do crazy, romantic, kind of stage clothes, where there were ruffles on top of ruffles and pearl trim. It was so embellished and so ruffled and pastelly — very theatrical. So a lot of times it’s very arbitrary to what came before it, but it is a spirit, so it’s like we were going for something romantic, very sober, almost melancholic.
I do believe that our shows became such a form of entertainment. They’re like a little seven-minute theater piece, so I’m very into showing it in a very theatrical way and building the set, the music, and everything. It becomes a little vignette.

CK: How do you separate them in your mind when you are doing your collections — Marc Jacobs, Marc by Marc Jacobs, and Louis Vuitton?
MJ: I hope to not be too spiritual about this, but I end up being where I am. When I’m in Paris, I’m a foreigner. I’m a little bit detached. Like the Vuitton job, which is an amazing job, and I love doing it, but it’s kind of an alter ego. It’s so much more of an overt personality, it’s so about being recognized with the logos, and it’s so glossy and so extroverted — and it’s not who I am, but it’s a role I like to play. I’m an American in Paris being a French designer, having the people come with the embroidery samples and the button samples. It’s very French fashion design. I think of it like I’m in a movie. Like it’s not real.
Here in New York, I’m much more connected — where I’m in a gallery, and then I go to work or a museum or whatever. And my friends are here, so bits of conversation get taken to work, but I do end up doing what I have to do when I’m in the place where I am.

CK: Are you thinking about the woman differently? Is she logo driven?
MJ: In Paris, for every detail, every lining, every button, every trim, it’s very demonstrative, and you really get it, like, Wow, that’s Vuitton. I thought about this so much when I first went to Vuitton. A journalist once asked me, “What do you think makes Vuitton luggage so modern?” What I think is so unique about the brand is that humans have this desire to belong to a club; they want to be recognized. If the luggage didn’t have a logo all over it that everyone knew meant that it had cost a certain amount of money, I don’t think it would sell the way that it does. It was made for people who traveled by steamship; the couture version of a Vuitton bag is a trunk. No one travels like that anymore. So modernity is not the first word I think of. But what I think is that it’s beautiful craftsmanship that is highly recognizable.
The first season I was there, I thought I was going to be so clever and put the logo inside the coat and the main Louis Vuitton behind the button, like underneath the button, and the first thing the salespeople in the shop asked me was “Is the coat reversible, and can you turn the buttons around?” So I realized this is a lost cause. Let’s not hide it; it has to be flaunted.

CK: Do you think about those people when you’re doing a collection, as inspiration for the collection?
MJ: Oh yeah, very often. Sometimes we get very giddy and we start making things that really look like fashion-show clothes. And I say, “I have to believe that someone I know would wear this.” It’s just not enough to like some concoction. I’m not interested in making stuff for museums; I want the clothes to be worn. I don’t care if the girl sits on a curb in them after a party and they’re destroyed. I have to believe that there’s going to be a life for these things. Otherwise, I wouldn’t send them down the catwalk.

CK: There was a woman who used to live and die for style and for fashion. Totally obsessed. When I came to the business, I got to know a lot of those women. They worked at the magazines. Now it’s different. There’s something that’s now more modern. Maybe that was just another time.
MJ: Everything changes — the world as it is and life as it is. It is definitely a different time, and people reflect the time they live in.

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