I n 1992, Marc Jacobs sent his models down the runway in a layered mix of plaids (in silk), thermals (in cashmere), Doc Marten boots, knit beanies and other markers of a culture more at home in underground clubs than a Perry Ellis fashion show. It was his grunge collection – now a part of fashion history – that would get him fired the following year. It was a moment that defined Jacobs as a designer unwavering in his vision, an enfant terrible. Five years later, Louis Vuitton hired him to launch their ready-to-wear line. He moved to Paris and led the luxury trunk maker through a massive global expansion. Successful artist collaborations, including Takashi Murakami’s vivid reimagining of the classic monogram, propelled the brand into pop culture. In April, Jacobs and his husband, Char Defrancesco, purchased a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home in Rye, New York. Their current residence, a four-storey townhouse in Manhattan’s West Village, is a wonderful showcase for his collection of art and design. “I was very instinctive, and I just bought things that I loved,” he says. “Then I got to know these artists a little bit – some a lot – and that fed my interest in their work.” Before art and design from his collection comes up for auction, he speaks with his friend and Sotheby’s chairman, Amy Cappellazzo.
How did you get started collecting?
I was always really intimidated by the art world. I grew up in New York City and I spent plenty of nights with Jean-Michel Basquiat, Francesco Clemente, and a lot of the artists who were around in the 1980s. Other than an art survey course in high school, I had no art history knowledge. I just thought, “well, you can't walk into a gallery without knowing what you're looking at.” Around 2000, I went to a show of Mike Kelley at the Whitney. I just knew that I connected to his art for some reason. Later I went to this gallery show of Mike Kelley prints, and I called my friend John Reinhold, a great art collector, and said, “Oh my god, these prints are for sale.” He started teaching me about how one buys art. And so, that was my first purchase.
Do you always relate to artists as an artist yourself?
I never really saw my job that way – of course, it’s a creative job, in a creative field, and I am a creative person, but I didn’t look at it as art. It’s fine if somebody else says, “I love your art.” I would roll my eyes and reluctantly say, “thank you”, but I would never say “my art”. When I think of art, I think of the lives of artists.
“I’m not Marie Kondo. I didn’t decide everything must go. I thought about my role as an art collector....and I just felt it’s time to give myself this window to start again.”
Tell me about how Paris affected your aesthetic?
I moved to Paris because I got this really cushy job at Louis Vuitton in 1997. That did change things for me. First of all, it gave me a healthier income. Let's just put it that way because that's what it did. But it also made me consider what my purpose at Vuitton was. I thought “my name is not Louis Vuitton. I'm collaborating with this house while I'm here.” Then I thought back to this creative society when Chanel worked with Picasso, or when Elsa Schiaparelli worked with Jean Cocteau. So I decided, “I’m going to invite in other creative people.” Takashi Murakami, Richard Prince, Yayoi Kusama. So my work at Vuitton contributed directly to me interacting with artists.
Why are you selling things and leaving this house?
Well, I’m not Marie Kondo. I didn’t decide everything must go. I thought about my role as an art collector. I love what Steve Martin says, that these things are not mine – I am a custodian for them. There’s also just the logistics – when you move into a Frank Lloyd Wright house, there isn’t a lot of wall space and you can’t hang a lot of paintings. As much as I will have a difficult time parting with them, I just felt it’s time to give myself this window to start again.
You are one of the most encyclopedic collectors of John Currin’s work.
I think John is a rebel and is one of the most amazing artists of our time. I just worship his brain. He is a great art historian and is so opinionated. I learned an incredible amount from him. He has said, “The worst thing in the world I could do is make a bad painting,” and that’s what a real artist is. He’s just concerned with making good paintings. John is fascinated by the women that he depicts. It’s their gaze at you, or their gaze away from you. He’s got what da Vinci had with the Mona Lisa.
I heard you say that this 1926 Jean Dunand coffee table influenced the Marc Jacobs beauty packaging.
I was walking by a gallery in Paris which happened to be Seguin and I saw this Prouvé. I didn't know the first thing about Prouvé – I didn't know it meant anything. I just felt like that's a nice chair. I went in and I was like, "How much for that chair?” And that's how my interest in design started. Then with this piece, it is so tactile. It makes a statement; it’s black, and although the legs are triangular, all the edges are soft and shiny. When we had this meeting about our packaging for beauty, I knew I wanted it to look like 30 coats of piano lacquer.
I want you tell me what these words mean to you: “She gets angry at him.”
It’s just a brilliant phrase. I love the mind of Ed Ruscha, who, for me, is just the greatest living American artist. Sexy and great at conceptual art. It’s egg yolk on moire, which of course is one of my favorite fabrics, in these big block letters. I've put the emphasis on she gets angry at him, or, she gets angry at him, girl. I always knew the Stains paintings, so to see one come up, and to be able to bid on it, was already incredible. And then to get it, well, it never fails to delight me.
Tell me about Mary Calling up a Storm.
The second thing I ever bought was Karen Kilimnik’s Mary Calling Up a Storm, and I bought that at auction. I think of Karen as if she is me, like if I were a little girl in my own little bedroom. I imagined Karen before I met her, with unicorns and daisies over the eyes and stuff like that in a glittery kind of Aurora Borealis little bedroom. I remember seeing Mary Calling Up a Storm in a catalog and I just fell in love with this girl, Mary. I thought of all that darkness around her and that raven black hair and those piercing blue eyes and I remembered again me as a young girl sort of being outside, a Carrie-like person summoning up this great storm, and being this slightly dark goth figure. I just love the title felt like, “yeah. I get it.” That would be me as Mary conjuring up a storm.
The way the Elizabeth Peyton works are displayed here – a salon hang along the staircase – feels like portraits of family members or friends.
I met Elizabeth in Paris at the opening of the show, “Dear Painter, Paint Me...”. Knowing her is such a special thing. I’ve sat for her on many occasions, and she also drew me and my ex-boyfriend, Pierre, in the garden in Paris. It does feel like a family tree, and I think she’d be in the strongest place, the branches closest to the trunk. Whenever I was offered a painting or drawing that she did of me or someone I knew, I couldn’t not buy it. I had to have it. I feel like they are this beautiful imagined photo gallery of my extended family.
Sometimes, for creative people, it’s the exercise of putting together the collection that is the “making” of something, and then there’s sort of peace.
I remember sitting in the salon in Paris. Hanging on one wall there were Richard Prince’s Untitled (Four Women Looking in the Same Direction), 1977, and Lisa Yuskavage’s Untitled (Piggyback Ride), 2006, and there was The Penitent, 2004, by John Currin, on another wall. I was having a call with my therapist. I told him I was uncomfortable because “I’m looking at a wall where there’s no painting and it feels like a piece of the puzzle is missing.” And he says, “Well, I hope you never complete the puzzle, I hope you’re always looking for that last piece.” That’s always stayed with me because of course, even if you complete the puzzle, you get a new puzzle. There’s nothing wrong with getting a new puzzle.
Lead image: Marc Jacobs with François-Xavier Lalanne's Pair of "Crapaud" chairs and "Nénuphar" table, circa 1968. Photograph by Victoria Stevens.