Marc Jacobs: “Perfect Doesn’t Mean Perfection”

The designer opened up about developing a fragrance while in quarantine, working with Lila Moss, and how he got the @PatiasFantasyWorld co-sign.

Marc Jacobs displaying his "Perfect" tattoo
Marc Jacobs shows off his “Perfect” tattoo.

In this moment of multiple global crises, it’s probably a good idea to let go of the notion that achieving perfection is possible. Most have made plans, then rearranged or canceled them, and many of us have tried to be productive and creative, only to realize our energy is best saved for simply getting through the day.

But if there is one person who appears to have mastered the art of making things while in quarantine, and successfully launching them to the world for all to see (and smell), it’s Marc Jacobs. While in quarantine, the designer launched “Perfect,” a new fragrance with a campaign featuring over 42 individuals—one of whom happens to be Lila Moss, the daughter of his lifelong friend Kate Moss.

While sequestered in his home just outside of New York City, Jacobs spoke about his creative process and how it has been impacted by isolation. Our conversation took place on—where else?—Zoom. With his quarantine-signature slicked-back hair and white pearls, Jacobs discussed the details of his new fragrance.

In between puffs of his vape, the designer opened up about his definition of “perfect,” working with Lila Moss, his latest tattoo count, and how he got the @PatiasFantasyWorld co-sign earlier this summer.

Have you developed a morning ritual while you’ve been in quarantine?

Oh, boy, here we go. My morning ritual is, I wake up, hopefully after a good night’s sleep, which is very nice when it happens—but it’s not guaranteed. But if I slept well and feel rested and restored, I make myself a couple of espressos. I go on Instagram or on any of those kinds of little news outlets that I trust while I have my coffee. I find out what happened while I was sleeping because these days, a lot happens when you’re sleeping and a lot happens when you’re awake. My morning starts with being just a bit connected to the people I trust for news and and sources of information that I find credible.

Then I go into the bathroom and I start my very long ritual of getting ready to start my day, which starts with prayer, and then it goes into a shower. And then after the shower, there’s doing my hair, putting the different products on my face and deciding what I’m going to wear, going to my closet or my drawers and pulling out an outfit or a look, putting on a piece of jewelry. My pearls have happened every single day for months now, since Christmas, I think. On the weekend, the ritual includes a mani-pedi. I consider it all to be self care. It’s the time I give myself and the choices that I make to feel good about myself and and positive about going into the day, and I feel that having made those choices and given myself that time, I’m kind of ready to be of use and of service and be creative.

How have you been expressing yourself creatively during these past few months?

By “getting ready to be creative” I mean that I’m enjoying this ritual of being the person or living the purpose that that I’m here for. I’m a creative person. It’s what I do. So when I might not actually have a project that requires any kind of creative thinking, I do feel like there is a creative solution to every problem I’m about to face during the course of the day. I still need to feel physically and I need to look physically and smell physically like this person I want to be in order to really engage in that practice.

Is there anything that you’re especially proud of that you’ve been able to accomplish in quarantine?

Yes, we’ve accomplished quite a few things that I’m excited about and am very proud of. Many of those things started prior to the quarantine and before the outbreak of Covid and the pandemic, and you’ll be seeing those things in the coming weeks and months. I am very proud of an ad campaign that we shot prior to Covid, and I’m also very proud of these little patchwork masks that I made while I was in quarantine, that were all upcycled from old prints, from old collections of ours. That’s something that I actually did and physically worked on with some members of our creative team. I feel happy that we finally got it done because it was a lot of work and unfortunately, there was a lot of red tape involved.

One of the things that you’ve worked on while in quarantine is a new fragrance, which you’ve named “Perfect.” What was the inspiration behind that name?

The inspiration was this tattoo on my wrist, it says “perfect.” I’ve had it for a long time, almost two decades. For me, it’s a reminder that I am perfect as I am and that everything that is happening around me, I have a choice to look at as something that I’m growing from or learning from, and that perspective is very important. Things might not be to my liking. There may be things I want to change and maybe things I can change, maybe things I can’t change. But again, I can look at them as opportunities for creativity. I can look at them as opportunities of self-expression. I can look at them as opportunities to grow and learn.

I’ve been told that it can be a bad thing, to try being a perfectionist.

Perfect doesn’t mean perfection. That’s not what this is a reminder of. This does not mean I need to achieve “perfect.” This is a reminder that everything is perfect as it is now. That doesn’t mean I might not want to change it. I might want to tamper with it. I might want it to look a certain way one day and a different way another day. But it is, for me, a reminder that mistakes I make, things that I do, choices—they’re all exactly what they should be at any given moment. They’re right. The universe works that way.

In terms of applying it to the fragrance, when I was asked to come up with a name, I had this reminder on my wrist. But I also liked the idea of this group of people that reflected this notion of what perfect meant to them. Rather than having this typical narrative of having a face of the fragrance that you aspire to be, I thought, well, that’s boring and feels like the way it always was—a formula that’s time has passed. I really wanted the opportunity to create a new fragrance.

It’s cool that you were inspired by a tattoo of yours. How many tattoos do you have, and do you have any favorites?

I think when I last counted I had 34 or 36 tattoos, but I don’t know if I’ve had another one since that last count. I think I have because I have a tattoo that I did with Lana Wachowski. We have matching tattoos that say “I will if you will.” It’s an image of Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill, but each of us plays Sisyphus. So that ups it to either 35 or 37.

The “perfect” one is a favorite, and the other favorite is a couch. I can tell you the story of the couch, but there’s no real meaning of the couch; it doesn’t symbolize anything. It was of a drawing of a Jean-Michel Frank couch that I had tattooed on my torso. It was so random, and was done on such a whim. I literally was going to Scott Campbell, and he said, “So what are we doing today?” I had no idea. So I said, “How about a couch?” He was like, “Okay, well, I’ve never done a couch tattoo before.” [Laughs.] It felt very, very, very me in its random, off-the-cuff whim.

How do you describe what Perfect smells like?

That’s the part that’s really hard for me. I would say it smells fresh. There’s a kind of joy in it. It smells pretty; it gives me some playfulness. It’s light, but distinct. I’m very bad at describing fragrance. My role in this is usually to come up with a story and a name and then work toward a bottle, the cap, a package—and then to say to the perfumers, “This is the message. This is the story. This is its name. And this is how I see it. Now, what would you do to fill that bottle?” Then they come back with a few different choices and you say, “Oh, no, this one’s too sweet,” or “I don’t like that one. It’s weird.” I don’t have the kind of connection to fragrance or the vocabulary around fragrance to talk about it in their way. So to me, it’s just the list of adjectives.

Where did the idea to top the bottle with trinkets and charms come from?

The way we’ve worked in the past is that Coty comes to me and once I pick the name and I give them a little bit of a brief story around the name, they give the project to different artists that they work with and they come back with some designs. Depending on my mood, I’m either receptive or not receptive. Usually, once I’ve calmed down from my first reaction, I find things I like and things I don’t like. Very little of what it starts out as remains by the time we’ve gone through the process. I was looking at a bunch of designs and not really feeling them.

I went to see if we had any trinkets lying around, or charms lying around. I kept using the words charm, individuality, eccentricity.

There were certain words that kept coming up. I couldn’t express it with a one-track mind, so it became this three-dimensional collage of random thoughts, very much in the way of the couch tattoo or the way that I am—which is, like, I don’t really have an explanation of how these things fit together. I just know that within this creative moment, they look good to me. They feel right. The balance is right. There’s an homage to something classic and old and rooted in the classic fragrance bottle topper; this is a reference to a 1940s fragrance I remember, and references to whatever was around me that day to help me tell that story. Then I started sticking things together with clay, and they said that was complicated. I was like, “That sounds like a you problem!” We came up with a creative solution that was very much the expression of this spontaneous moment of what I felt would be the perfect bottle for the perfect fragrance. We just kept putting things together instinctively with the idea that it was going to be perfect.

There are over 42 people starring in the campaign for the fragrance, but, of course, Lila Moss stands out as one of the main stars. What motivated you to include her as one of the many faces for Perfect?

There are many reasons. I have a very long relationship with that family, with Jefferson [Hack] and with Kate [Moss]. When Kate allowed Lila to do our beauty campaign, it was a very special moment and it wasn’t taken lightly. Kate wasn’t allowing Lila to do just anything in the same way that Cindy [Crawford] wasn’t allowing Kaia [Gerber] to do just anything. I have a history with these women and with their families. It was very nice for me to, first of all, want aesthetically to make these choices, but also for them to have something that resonated on a more personal level. So Lila was coming of that age when Kate was allowing her to do something, and Kate felt that she wanted it to be with me. That was great.

Lila Moss. Image courtesy of Marc Jacobs Beauty.

And how did you get the other people to join in on the campaign?

One of the things I’m being protective about here with a discussion of Lila is that, I know how people like to think of fragrance, and the face that represents that fragrance. Lila is a celebrated personality that’s probably part of the traditional way of talking about fragrance. I had this experience even with Miley in the last show where Miley didn’t want to be Miley Cyrus. She wanted to be one of the models in the show. And Lila was one of the models in the cast.

It was important to me, with this project, that we had a cast of very different people from very different places, with very different lives. Part of the casting call was just done on Instagram: we posted it, like a contest, and said, “Tell us why you’re perfect as you are, and tell us what the word ‘perfect’ means to you.” We did a lot of the casting through these videos of people entering this competition. Some of them were models and some of them weren’t. But I did feel it was very important to tell in the story of “Perfect” that there was no one wrong. There was no wrong age, there was no wrong gender, there was no wrong story. All the stories were perfect, and they are perfect in their inclusivity and telling of one’s story. If you break down any of the stories into just one component, then it’s not the story. It’s just one part of the story. So as much as I love to talk about Lila, I can talk about her and her family and knowing her since she was a baby, she is a part of the story.

You’ve mentioned Instagram a couple of times—it was an important tool for casting your Perfect campaign, and you said it’s the first thing you look at in the morning. You’re very online, and very aware of the communication that happens in social media spaces. Have you always been keen to stay logged on?

I was so against social media! When I first heard about Instagram and social media, I was like, “That’s anti-social media. That has nothing to do with being social. That is the most socially distant thing you can do, putting a screen between two people.” And then I kind of came around to it. I embraced it and I thought, it’s like everything else. It’s perspective. You can use this as a tool to connect with people and in that connection, you can actually discover things you didn’t know and you can actually meet people you’ve never known. Once I embraced Instagram and I embraced the smartphone as a device for connecting me with people, I really got into it because it was a very beautiful thing!

As so many have been galvanized to use Instagram as a tool for social justice, I have to ask, how did you get the @PatiasFantasyWorld co-sign?

How I came to know Patia is that I noticed there were many people that I was following—some good friends for a long time and some more recent friends—talking about Patia’s Fantasy World. I was like, let me check into this. I started cracking up! I mean, some of the memes I related to maybe in a way that I should or shouldn’t. But all I know is that I was amused and I just laughed at what I understood from it, and I loved the people who were following her, like Walter Pearce, so I started following her. And this is where Instagram really gets interesting to me—randomly, I made a comment, and Patia DMs me. Now, I get a lot of DM requests and I kind of randomly respond. Either I respond to one because it gets my attention, the picture does, or I see that first little bar and what’s written. And because it was Patia and I was following her, I saw her DM and I answered it and she was like, “Oh, I’m a fan, thank you for following me,” or however she said it. That, to me, was her way of saying, “You’re allowed to be here. You’re invited in. You can be on my page, it’s okay, I have officially contacted you and you’re good!”

How did the two of you decide to connect with your Instagram Live chat about Black Lives Matter and the anti-racism movement?

That led to a conversation about this anti-racism guide she’s made. And through Walter, who I’ve worked with, we started talking about, well, what can we do? Like, could we do something together or would you like to do something together? Could we start a conversation? Is there anything I can do to help or is there anything you would like to do? Patia said yes and we started with this Instagram Live conversation. We have some other things that we’re working on doing, and that’s how that relationship formed. It was a perfect example of how Instagram or social media can be used as a tool to connect people and connect ideas and get a conversation going. It can be used for learning and listening and growing. That’s why I said Instagram is where I choose to get my news, from the people that I trust who are participating in that form of communication.

As these political movements gain traction on social media and in the world, I’m wondering how you see yourself as an ally to the movement, fighting for inclusion in the fashion and beauty industries?

That’s a really complicated question. I’m trying to do my part. I know I’ve been saying “I” and “my” a lot lately, and the reason I’m doing it is because I’m trying to keep the focus on myself and not say what you should do or what they should do. I’m thinking about what part can I play and what can I do? I’ve had this conversation within my company. I went on this Zoom meeting for a group of people within the company where we asked what we can do, where are we lacking, where can we be better? And how can each of us make a daily contribution to kindness and progress? How can we grow and change and learn? How can we learn to listen? How can we learn to appreciate? How can we learn to value? That is not a question you receive on a Monday, and it’s done by Tuesday morning. It is a process that needs constant checking. Everybody involved must collectively take some responsibility and some accountability.

There are systems and there’s learning and there’s education. There are so many facets to this conversation, but as a 57 year old person with the experiences I’ve had, I feel I’m not too old to learn new tricks. I am not ashamed to admit when I make a mistake—and I make mistakes constantly. I won’t be afraid to say I was wrong or I’m ashamed of something I did. It’s that openness that I feel is the beginning to actual change.

I’m learning a lot. I’m not trying to be pedantic. I’m not a teacher. I can be an ally by continuing to listen and learn and recognize and appreciate value. I’m always going to be an instinctive person—and that instinctive person is going to make mistakes. I don’t think anybody can please everyone. But I can grow. That I can do on a constant basis.

Related: How The Meme Account @PatiasFantasyWorld Became a Central Voice in the Anti-Racism Movement