Marc Jacobs Is a Total Hypebeast—and Our Purest Artist
Why Jacobs has been wearing the kind of clothes that sell out in minutes, but designing something else entirely.
Photograph by Matthew Sperzel for Getty Images.
It was March 2018, and Marc Jacobs seemed to be having the best week of his life. He was everywhere at Paris Fashion Week: vaping in the front row of Balenciaga in the house’s super hype Triple S sneakers; hugging Karl Lagerfeld after the Chanel show with a Chanel flap bag in his hand; clutching Miuccia Prada at dinner in the men’s pink sequin Comme des Garçons blazer from Spring 2018; sharing tender reflections from the not-yet-open-to-the-public Margiela retrospective (“tells a classic tale but in a way only Martin Margiela can,” he wrote of a fishnet-and-hanger little black dress). He was living the Cinderella fantasy of fashion week: front row at everything, at the center of every party, a hottie on his arm (his soon-to-be fiancé, Char Defrancesco, who is a…luxury candlemaker, if you can believe it?), and, unlike most of his history attending Paris Fashion Week—when he was the creative director of Louis Vuitton, from 1997 to 2014—he wasn’t under the pressure of presenting a collection.
He could just get dressed and ’gram, like an ultimate influencer: he had those Triple S shoes; the sequin Comme blazer in green with matching sequin shorts in pink; a Raf Simons jacket; the Prada comic book print coat—practically the average Grailed user’s dream shopping list of much-coveted items that have sold out quickly and appeared in countless streetstyle photos from Fall 2018 fashion weeks. In late April, Jacobs posted a shot of himself at the airport in that Prada coat with a full set of Louis Vuitton monogram luggage, Rimowa x Supreme luggage, and a duffle from the Louis Vuitton x Supreme collaboration—nearly a hundred thousand dollars worth of luggage, if purchased at retail (which it probably wasn’t). “Traveling light for our trip to Shanghai…” he teased in the caption.
Jacobs had gone full on, premium hypebeast.
Jacobs has always had an affinity for eccentric dressing—he wore a lace dress and boxers with his signature rhinestone pilgrim shoes to the 2012 Met Ball, and has long worn kilts and Prada skirts. But while those looks reflected a style all Jacobs’s own (that time he twinned with Anna Wintour notwithstanding), this one seemed like a direct indulgence of luxury streetwear fandom. It isn’t personal style if you’re just buying what everyone else wants to buy—right?
What was particularly striking about this parade of grails was that just weeks before, the designer had presented a collection in New York with a radically different tone. The models—true mannequins, if you can imagine Diana Vreeland purring at her peak—walked with their hands placed high on their hips or slung louche in pockets, wearing bold electric colors and gargantuan silhouettes that embodied the 80s opulence of a Park Avenue doyenne. It was Christian Lacroix excess in an age of LaCroix Sparkling Water. Every model a wore huge Stephen Jones hat—who wears hats anymore?—and every garment was a feast of technically complex rosettes of silk and admirable tailoring. But it seemed so retro, so out of step with what the rest of the fashion world was doing that Cathy Horyn described each look “not so much an outfit as a sarcophagus.”
Jacobs’s designs would indicate that he’s one of those people who’s turned off by what’s trendy—it’s not uncommon to hear a member of fashion’s old guard lament the current era as too-casual. But Jacobs’s highly public display of hypebeastiality (uh huh!) affirms he has not only a deep familiarity with the current mores of fashion, but a ravenous appreciation for them: here he is with his fiancé reenacting the most recent Balenciaga paparazzi campaign.
It was Christian Lacroix excess in an age of LaCroix Sparkling Water.
In a 2008 profile of Jacobs for The New Yorker, Ariel Levy wrote of his ubiquitous It bags and his association with Sex and the City: “There is nothing [Jacobs] loves more than seeing his work woven into the culture.” But Jacobs’s work has, in many ways, disentangled itself from the culture, as his business has sputtered since he stepped down from Louis Vuitton in 2014. He shuttered his popular diffusion line, Marc by Marc Jacobs, in 2015, and his longtime (since 1984!) business partner Robert Duffy stepped down shortly thereafter; the brand’s sales have stagnated since those two changes; and the company had a bizarre kerfuffle earlier this year when Baja East designer John Targon was appointed to lead contemporary design in February, then departed after just 71 days.
How, then, do we square Jacobs the hypebeast with Jacobs the esoteric designer? Streetwear culture has always been about access and sacrifice for vanity: the will to stand in line for hours or even days, or to shell out unreasonable amounts of money for caché among a self-selecting group that recognizes the coding of certain brands and slogans. It can also become an addiction: “Young and can’t stop spending money on clothes,” reads a 2015 post on Reddit’s streetwear forum. “I am addicted, and there’s no way around it. I buy new preme bogo’s, new raf simons, new air max and new stone island roll necks etc all the fucking time,” the user wrote. “I spend 8 hours a day browsing clothes on the web, my life would honestly be empty without this.”
Jacobs, of course, has other pursuits—and his position in the industry means he doesn’t have to spend eight hours looking for just the right Balenciaga hoodie—but he’s clearly aware of how desire fuels design.
“I am a true addict in that whatever makes me feel good I want more of, whether it’s good for me or not,” Jacobs told Levy in 2008, as he puffed away on a Marlboro Light. “Jacobs collects art the way he lifts weights, the way he smokes: with great fervor,” Levy wrote (true to hypebeast form, he appears to have switched to vaping). Streetwear, a scroll through Jacobs’s Instagram suggests, is also an addiction. So why isn’t he using his own designs to give customers a fix? Big hats and anachronistically proportioned coats aren’t the kinds of things that people line up around the block for—but they’re also just as fully formed a fantasy as his new lifestyle. There have always been designers who are intentionally trend-averse—the Olsens, Thom Browne, and Azzedine Alaïa come to mind— but Jacobs is doing something else. He clearly likes what’s “cool,” but chooses to advance other ideas in his work.
His runway vision shares a spirit of completeness with his wardrobe: he goes all the way. In that respect, it’s not difficult to imagine those big black gaucho hats, the giant rosette belts, and the oversized boleros and trench coats on Grailed in just a decade’s time (or less). It’s streetwear’s totality of vision that inspires cult fanaticism—and remember, this is the man who was fired from Perry Ellis for doing a runway grunge collection that proved remarkably prescient. Jacobs’s wardrobe is actually a cipher for his business: he may be a total hypebeast, but he’s also our purest artist.