Hubert Burda Media

The Age of Decadence

A new era is nigh at the house of Marc Jacobs. We talk to the designer with a difference

The Age of Decadence

MARC JACOBS has a new gal pal, and her name is Decadence. No, she's not a stripper with a heart of gold, though her coming-out party was door-bitched by a drag queen named Milk (twitter handle: @bigandmilky) and featured performances by a coterie of other envelope-pushing characters in a vaudeville-themed surrounding hidden behind a seedy laundry room above a tacky dollar store.

Decadence, actually, is a perfume, and a decadent one at that, as the name might suggest. Fans of Marc Jacobs' fragrance lines will observe that this is not just a departure from, but a leap away from, the brand's Daisy collection, a line that Jacobs himself describes as “always outside with blue skies and fields of daisies, and girls dressed in white cotton. Daisy was this idea of innocence and this kind of charm, a kind of sweetness, a kind of naivety, and there was a bit of irony to it.” Decadence, on the other hand, rendered through the Jacobs lens, “is a kind of youthful irreverence ... being in a beaded dress and eating at McDonald's ... or eating caviar out of its jar in jeans on a park bench. That's decadent behaviour. It's a disregard of the rulesand it's self-indulgent.”

Jacobs sure did indulge in some very decadent behaviour indeed, then, at his perfume's launch party, at which a photo and social-media ban was instituted at the venue owner's request. He took photos. He posted them. Times 20. Then again, when has Jacobs ever been a rule-follower? Throughout his almost-40-year career, he's subverted more than he's abided – there's that time he did grunge for Perry Ellis and got fired for it; when he did away with model fees and put himself in his campaign; or when he took one of the world's most famous faces – that of Victoria Beckham – and hid it inside a Marc Jacobs shopping bag. That time he told Suzy Menkes he was “appalled” by social media – only to join Instagram just months later.

The latest shockwave created was a decision made along with his somewhat newly appointed CEO, Sebastian Suhl (who replaced Jacobs' long-time business partner Robert Duffy about a year ago) – to fold the successful Marc by Marc Jacobs diffusion line into the Marc Jacobs main label, while keeping the full range of product and price offerings.

“When Sebastian got here, we re-evaluated [Marc by Marc Jacobs],” he muses. “We felt like it should all be under one label and it should be a broader range of things that reflects one aesthetic. We want to incorporate it in a way that still has integrity and the design aesthetic of what Marc by Marc was, or is, but into one label. Whatever the inspiration for a collection will be,will be reflected in different ways, rather than having two different shows with two different messages.”

The fashion world nodded along when the announcement was made – narrowing the brand focus and pushing it towards a more high-end positioning seemed like a logical second step if you were to believe the rumours that Marc Jacobs, the company, hopes to go public soon (the first step, naturally, having been Jacobs' leaving his gig as creative director at Louis Vuitton three years ago). The third step, perhaps, was to sell the message – that Marc Jacobs is all about that buzzword, decadence. Just as storied French houses like Vuitton, Dior and Chanel had begun to use cruise shows as a chance to embed journalists in a 360-degree luxury-lifestyle brand experience, Jacobs borrowed the relatively small news of a fragrance launch to tell reporters and, ergo, the world: we are here, and we are decadent. For international guests arriving for the party there were in-room spa treatments, custom pyjamas, front-row concert tickets, dips in ancient baths, chauffeured limos, loaner iPhones complete with the Marc Jacobs app guide to New York, mid-day deliveries of the sold-out cronut and even home-baked treats from Jacobs' personal chef, Lauren. Message received.

The clothes, too, feel more sumptuous now. Autumn/winter 2015 was defined by images of Diana Vreeland, and involved plush and printed coats; dramatic, floor-dusting skirts; and other pieces dripping with a gothic elegance in line with the slightly renegade spirit that's signature to Marc Jacobs, but somehow more grown up. And certainly very commercially viable. “There's always a creative solution to a commercial concern,” reminds the designer. “You can still do what you do aesthetically and with integrity, but be responsible. I think that's just part of what it means to work in a business. If business didn't matter, I would say, ‘Forget it, I'm not going to listen to you.' But if you want to grow that business, then you have to be somewhat responsible, and creatively solve problems.”

More and more, Jacobs is showing how adept he is at expressing his creative side without compromising commercial concerns. Socially,the designer has long been known for his coterie of famous friends, many of whom are fixtures at his shows and parties: ex-Sonic Youth singer Kim Gordon, sculptor Rachel Feinstein, director Sofia Coppola, plus other celebs ranging from Cher to Anthony Kiedis to Winona Ryder. This season, he raised them to friends-with-benefits status, capitalising on his relationships and casting them all in an advertising campaign extravaganza shot by David Sims that mounts singles, duos and small groups upon a stark vermilion backdrop for simple portraits that put clothing and personalities in equal stark focus.

“There were some people who I've worked with before, friends of mine. Some people who are recent friends, but people who are a part of my life and have come on to my radar and who in some way inspire me. They are creative people who inspire me, and that's what they have in common,” he says. The campaign, which feels something like an indie, fashion version of Taylor Swift's “Bad Blood” video with its cameos galore, certainly garnered no small amount of attention on social media. Jacobs, now officially an Instagram addict, naturally posted every shot, accompanied by anecdotal tidbits, like the fact that Debi Mazar was the make-up artist for Jacobs' first runway show.

It was a savvy use of the social-media platform he once spurned: “I [used to look at] social media very much through the eyes of someone who never participated in it. I think the difference is that before, I looked at social media as anti-social, because I felt like, does this mean you stay home on your computer ...and you don't get to have the experience face to face with people? Do you rob yourself of social experiences? “I did this movie called Disconnect, which was so much about being attached to Facebook and stuff. But then again, it's up to the individual whether a tool [social media] – whether it is urishing you and giving you more experiences or whether it is robbing you of actual experiences.”

A certain nude partial selfie that Jacobs accidentally posted publicly in June instead of sending it by direct message would suggest that he's definitely found a way to enrich his offline life using his online presence. “I apologise to anyone it offended,” he later wrote. “I'm a gay man. I flirt and chat with guys I meet online sometimes. BIG DEAL.” That, funnily enough, is part of Marc Jacobs' allure, both as a man and as a brand – he's not afraid to make mistakes, in grand fashion, and even less afraid of owning up to them. In this day and age, where every public figure's everymove, good or bad, is documented and broadcast across the Internet immediately, it's not being afraid to fall and come back that's the mark of true decadence.