Five years ago, if you'd told Kate Moss that one day she would own a Louis Vuitton handbag, she might have been more than a little doubtful.
For while the name Vuitton has always breathed status, it has not always been status of the cult kind. Yet here Kate is, waiting for a fashion shoot to begin in Georges restaurant at the top of the Pompidou Center, overlooking Paris. Her hair is being professionally fiddled with, stylists are tweaking her outfit, and a darling mini-monogram, denim Vuitton bag (model's own) is by her side.
And by coincidence, here he is, sitting in Georges and waiting for an interview to begin. This is the man who has transformed Louis Vuitton from bourgeois predictability to white-hot desirability, the man responsible for the hordes of breathless shoppers at every Vuitton store, for the international waiting list for that mini-monogram denim bag, for the countless magazine covers and general fashion-world homage—Marc Jacobs.
Cigarette in hand, chasing espressos, he's here to talk about why he loves Paris, which is kind of ironic. In fact, when Marc Jacobs moved here three years ago, hired by the luxury group LVMH as artistic director of Louis Vuitton, he didn't love the city at all.
Sure, he had happy memories of a trip he'd taken with his grandmother, when they'd stayed at the Hôtel Lenox and hung out on the terrace of the Deux Magots. But actually living in Paris didn't feel right. "What I disliked was that I felt unsettled," explains Jacobs. "I had become so comfortable and complacent in New York. I'd lived there for thirty-five years, and I know the city like the back of my hand. Whereas in Paris, in the beginning, I was living in a hotel and didn't have my family—my dog and my cat. I was traveling quite a bit; I spoke very little French; and I felt like a visitor. I felt lost."
The arrival of Tiger the dalmatian and Rover the cat started the turnaround. Jacobs found an apartment, an elegantly proportioned pad on the Rive Gauche, just off the Rue du Bac. Meanwhile, after a low-key start, he pulled off a series of triumphant collections for Louis Vuitton, rolling out one sexy iconic piece after another: the pastel patent-leather monogram bag, the damier (checkerboard) calfskin ankle boot, the jet-set logo trench.
Then it was simply up to Paris—that most practiced of séducteurs—to start working its charm. Nowadays Marc is smitten. "I love the clichés of Paris," he says, waving at the panoramic view from Georges (a positive gridlock of clichés—Sacré Coeur, the Louvre, Notre Dame). "I mean, I like every silly cliché. I love the Eiffel Tower and the whole French brasserie thing. I love Paris just the way everyone else does. You know: walking along the Seine, sitting on the bridges, strolling past the Place de la Concorde."
Of all the foreign designers to blow into French fashion houses recently, it is Jacobs who seems most committed. So much so that he has sold his apartment in New York and, though his dual role designing both his own line and that of Vuitton demands a double life between the two cities, he is trying to spend most of his time in Paris. As if more proof of his commitment were needed, check out his Vuitton collection for fall: a hard-edged, Azzedine Alaïa—inspired, Paris-in-the-eighties look, complete with skinny black pants, bold shoulders, and that most Parisian of clichés—the black beret.
But it's not just the picture postcard Jacobs is in love with, it's the whole way of life. It's the corner tabac where he picks up his cigarettes, it's his local gourmet boulanger, Dalloyau, where every morning he buys warm pain au chocolat and brioche. As Jacobs puts it: "Having all those delicious things for breakfast is one of the luxuries of Paris life."
It's his neighborhood cheese store, Barthélemy, with its lineups round the block on Saturday morning. It's the weekday lunches at Café Marly ("I never had a lunch hour in New York") and it's the warm welcome Tiger gets at every restaurant he trots into.
Compared with his downtown days, this new lifestyle has demanded a radical change of pace. "That's the biggest difference," admits Jacobs. "I was so used to the noise and energy that never stops in New York and I'd always thrived on that." At first, the quiet of Paris took a radical adjustment. "But now I've come to find there is an energy here, it's just very different."
His life in Paris is everything it wasn't in New York. Just the night before the interview, close friends Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore of the band Sonic Youth had stayed with Jacobs. "They often bring their six-year-old daughter Coco," says Jacobs. "And that's when I love my apartment most, when it's filled with house guests. That's a life I never had in New York."
He has even turned house-proud (and this from the man who gave us grunge), buying up furniture and developing a passion for pieces by Jean Prouvé and Charlotte Perriand. "In New York, I didn't care about my living space because I was always out. I met my friends in bars, clubs, restaurants," he reflects. "Whereas in Paris I love to have people over. So all of a sudden I'm buying fruit bowls."
However, Jacobs—brought up on a staple diet of Studio 54 and indie rock—looks like he's having trouble digesting the fact that he's purchasing fruit bowls, even a groovy bowl designed by Sottsass and shaped like the Parthenon and therefore "quite a conversation piece in the middle of the coffee table." He found it, along with the Prouvé and Perriand pieces and a beautiful Gae Aulenti lamp, at a favorite shop on the Rue de Seine: Galerie Downtown, which specializes in furniture from the 1950's. "The guy [owner François Laffanour] has a great eye—it's fantastic." Jacobs has always had a retro sensibility in his designs, finding inspiration in the cut of a coat from the 1960's or the hang of a 1970's maxi skirt. So it's not surprising that, come the weekend, he can be found trawling the Paris flea markets—still a sure source of secondhand booty for the fashion crowd.