Marc Jacobs has been the most influential designer in New York City since he showed his infamous grunge collection for Perry Ellis in 1992, a show that "sent an electric shock through the world of fashion," as Lynn Yaeger would later write in Vogue. The industry commentariat hated it and, eventually, the collection cost Jacobs his job. Today, the designer looks back on it fondly. "I was very happy with the grunge collection because of what it represented in my head, and how it was like kind of the first time I didn't care what anybody thought. I just wanted to do what I liked," he told W recently for its Royals issue. That collection would prove to be a watershed, not just for other designers, but before Jacobs himself began his rise, an ascent that has allowed him to cultivate his beloved namesake label and a creatively fulfilling stint at Louis Vuitton. A week before he shows what is consistently one of the most anticipated shows of New York Fashion Week, the designer looks back—on his adolescence, on his love affair with fashion, and his first kiss.
What was the first thing you remember designing?
A sweater. Oh, no, that's not true. The first thing I designed was a jumpsuit, a boiler suit, I guess people call it. Pale blue.
Was it cool?
It had patches.
And did you wear it?
It was really cool. It was based on like a gas station attendance boiler suit. I know I wore it to the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York. I think I was 12 years old.
And then you made the sweaters for [cult New York boutique] Charivari?
I made this sweater for Charivari. Those are the first things I designed and sold. Hand-knit sweaters that I designed while I was at Parsons [School of Design], but then they were produced for sale at Charivari. There was one with squares, like in a grid, and there were once with spots that decreased in sizes, and then there was the striped one.
And you worked at Charavari, too?
I worked at Charavari just before I turned 16 during the summer and after school for years.
And how old were you when they hired you at Perry Ellis?
I never worked at Perry Ellis. Oh, yeah [Laughs]. I did. I did. I did. I did. Sorry, sorry. I was 25 when I to work at Perry Ellis.
And then you became?
Do you ever look back at collections like the grunge collection and think that was an amazing collection or do you see the flaws and everything?__
Yes, I look back on things and think they were amazing, and yes I look back on things and see only the flaws. Mostly I see the flaws, but, I was very happy with the grunge collection because of what it represented in my head, and how it was like kind of the first time I didn't care what anybody thought. I just wanted to do what I liked. Or it was the first time in a long time that I just did what I wanted to do. And I felt very inspired by what was going on in art, in the music and fashion and fashion photography. But, I see the flaws in the clothes, and I certainly learn each season, I think, a little bit more about clothes and fitting and all of that kind of stuff. But it's never right, and I'm always dissatisfied.
But you're a genius, and so I want to know, who in design, or fashion, any kind of fashion, is a Royal to you?
Well, there's, there is a pretty long list actually. Royals to me would be Yves Saint Laurent, and Elsa Schiaparelli, Miuccia Prada, Vivienne Westwood, Rei Kawakubo, Martin Margiela, just to name a few. I've been inspired by Rei's work, I've been inspired by Muccia's, I've been inspired by all of those people. I mean, probably the designer that I go back to the most is Saint Laurent. I have a friend who I used to work with a lot and we'd always say, 'When in doubt look at Saint Laurent.' And, it was the whole world of Saint Laurent that I loved.
Do movies inspire you as well?
Very much. Movies inspire me; music inspires me; art inspires me; people inspire me; life inspires me; real and fictitious characters inspire me. There's so many great characters in literature and film that I have fallen in love with and have been the inspiration for certain collections or certain looks. And I think we all kind of portray fictitious characters sometimes anyway.
Do you have a favorite character in movies?
Well, my favorite book of all time is The Great Gatsby, and one of my very favorite characters in literature is Daisy Buchanan. I just love her name.
You had a dog named Daisy.
Huh, yeah. And a perfume, which is named after the dog, which was named after Daisy Buchanan. I have many muses and I don't like the word muse. It sounds kind of pretentious. I mean, people inspire me, real or imaginary. Or real or imagined. And fashion inspires me, art inspires me, like I said. There's just so much and there is not kind of like a rule and it depends, kind of where I'm at and what day of the week it is and what time of day it is, and all that stuff. And seing somebody I don't know, that just has a great personality or meeting somebody new can be inspiring, and then watching a movie and watching someone dressed in costume or acting can be inspiring. So, I guess it's all good.
Ok, a silly question to end. Where was your first kiss?
Oh God, it was with Lauren. I don't know if I should say the full name. Yeah, it probably was. I'll say her name. It was with Lauren Buongiorno when I was in sleepaway camp. Where was that camp? I think it was either Starlight, Pennsylvania? I went to two sleepaway camps. One was Camp Starlight and then there was another one, but I can't remember what its name was. But I'm pretty sure my first kiss was with Lauren Buongiorno.
And, did you enjoy it?
Well, I enjoyed the attention I got from the other guys because everybody would make fun of me and say that I was gay, so I was kind of proving to them that I wasn't—even though I really was, although I hadn't ever really kissed a guy at that point. So, Lauren Buongiorno was my first light kiss, but it was more like an 'I'll show you I can get a girl, kind of thing.' So I liked the attention I got for it, but I wouldn't say that the kiss blew me away.
I don't think it blew her away either, but what do you expect at 9 years old?