(Note that the closest to Speedos – the form-and-function zenith of men’s swimwear – we get from this American website is the stripey 1975 number. It’s all downhill and kneewards after that.)
Marc Jacobs talks to Mark Simpson about his Brazilian (ex) porn star boyfriend, foreskins, gay fashion misogyny, turning 50 and being turned into a stuffed toy.
(Originally appeared in the Winter 2012 edition of Man About Town Magazine)
Marc Jacobs is many things. So many things that it would make a lesser Mary giddy.
He’s a fashion label. Three, in fact: The Marc Jacobs Collection, Marc by Marc Jacobs, and Little Marc. He’s a range of fragrances. He’s a retail store, with 239 outlets in 60 different countries. He’s the creative director of Louis Vuitton in Paris. He’s a three times winner of the Womenswear Designer of the Year Award and a four times winner of Accessory Designer of the Year.
He’s also a relaxed, 49-year-old American from New York City whose pretty much life-long openness about his sexuality – along with his sustained success – has made him a poster-boy for gay pride, ranked 14th in American gay magazine Out’s 2012 ’Power List’.
Furthermore, Marc Jacobs is, perhaps most importantly in our superficial age, a bona fide global celebrity. Snaps of him socialising with friends and boyfriends appear in newspapers, mags and on gossip sites around the world: even the pages of even the UK’s notoriously gay unfriendly Daily Mail. Instantly recognisable, Marc Jacobs the man and the brand is a familiar part of our visual culture.
In keeping with that culture Marc Jacobs is also, nowadays, a body. A few years back, with the help of ruthless diets and religiously regular gym routines – and, no doubt, some of the hunkiest personal fitness trainers in town – he transformed himself from a chubby, nerdy, pallid chap grazing on junk food into almost fat-free, pumped, tanned, tattooed beefcake.
And now – dwarfing all his other achievements – he’s also a stuffed toy.
Mark Simpson: Word is you’ve been turned into a ‘Muscle Man Marc’ doll.
Marc Jacobs: I have. By the makers of South Park.
It’s every gay man’s dream. How did that come about?
Well, I have quite a few tattoos and two of them are of toys that belong to the Cartman character in South Park. And I guess I’ve been photographed so many times with those tattoos that it came to the attention of Matt [Stone] and Trey [Parker] who created the series, so as a sort of homage they made me into a doll, a toy in Cartman’s room. And of course I found that to be the greatest honour I’ve ever received! I have such great respect for them and I think the show is so clever, so well-observed.
As is your doll. It’s a very fetching toy.
But do you ever worry that people might be sticking pins in those dolls? People can be very jealous. I know I am.
[Laughs] Y’know, I sometimes read comments by people online to things and think, well, I don’t know these people and they don’t know me and so everybody has a right to their opinion and if it makes them feel better about me by putting me down, then fine.
Did you find, when you transformed yourself a few years back, that there was hissing as well as applause?
Yeah, like with everything y’know, some people said we like the old, sort of geeky Marc. But I got tons of letters from people saying that I encouraged them to go on diets and encouraged them to go to the gym. I started it for health reasons—I have ulcerative colitis and my nutritionist encouraged me to change my diet. I started going to the gym and started to feel better and look better—and anything that makes me feel better I want more of! Lots of people wrote to me to say that my story gave them hope that they could change as well. That it was never too late to change one’s diet or one’s lifestyle or pick up a habit that’s nourishing and positive.
What’s your current body fat percentage? Trending up or down? It was an eye-popping four per cent last time I read about it.
It’s probably about eight per cent at the moment. I missed a few weeks at the gym because of preparing the [Louis Vuitton] show for Paris Fashion Week. When I go back to New York it will go down again, probably to about five per cent very soon.
That’s a great relief!
Yeah—I’m sure people all over the world will be thrilled to know that!
There should probably be a website where we can check up on your BF percentage in real time.
Oh God, I hope there’s never any such thing!
Oh, it will come, it will come. I hear there’s one bad habit you’ve not been able to ditch: smoking.
Yeah, that’s true, unfortunately.
If smoking made you fat do you think you’d stop tomorrow?
I don’t know… I don’t know. I mean, I tried to quit smoking before. I’ve had periods of success—the longest was seven months. I really do enjoy smoking and as bad as I know it is for me I just can’t seem to stay quit.
Everyone should have at least one vice.
Well, I guess…
Though you seem to have a weakness for tattoos also. Any recent ones?
I had the ‘Muscle Man Marc’ doll tattooed on my right forearm a few months ago. That was the last one.
What’s the current tally?
I think we’re up to 34.
Some people like to agonise over their choice of tattoos.
That’s not something I agonise over. I mean, I can agonise over whether we use black and white or red and white or both in a collection, but I certainly don’t agonise over my tattoo choices. They’re very spontaneous.
Is the doll anatomically correct?
Well, it’s in pants.
And the pants don’t come off?
No. So I guess the answer’s no.
Ah, but since the pants don’t come off we’ll never know for sure. Do you remember Billy the gay doll?
Yeah, I do.
Did you ever have one?
No, I didn’t.
He was very anatomically correct. Or incorrect.
Yes, I remember!
What would you say was your favourite part of the male body?
Lips. I love a full pair of lips.
They’re an oft-overlooked male attribute.
I don’t overlook them!
Are you a passionate snogger, Mr Jacobs?
Yeah, that’s what gets the rest of me going!
Still dating Harry Louis, the humpy Brazilian porn star you were snapped with on the beach in Rio recently?
Oh yeah! He’s my boyfriend.
Harry looks to have been blessed in the lip department—and everywhere else.
Oh yeah! In all the right places—and it all works very well! He’s also a really lovely person. He’s nothing to complain about on any level, inside and out. He’s a total sweetheart. He’s a very sexy, hunky man.
I believe you. I can hear you getting turned on talking about him. Did you see him ‘in action’ before you met?
No. I met him through a friend of mine. I’d actually never seen him before.
And how did you feel about your boyfriend working as a porn star?
Oh, I thought he was very good at it! [Laughs] He’s given it up now though. It’s very disappointing for some of his fans, but I’m very happy about it. He told me that he wanted to give it up and have a monogamous relationship. So he’s been busy exploring what he wants to do with his life and has been working at a club called The Roof Gardens in London. He loves to cook and has been thinking about opening up a small café or restaurant. He’s also very good at cooking, by the way.
He has lips like those and is great in the kitchen as well?
Where did I put those pins?? Oh here they are: you once said “I always find beauty in things that are odd and imperfect—they are much more interesting.” Mr Louis doesn’t look terribly imperfect from where I’m panting.
That quote was in regard to fashion—me talking about things that inspire me to make clothes. And Harry, or Eddie as I call him, has his imperfections. I wouldn’t say they were physical—he has this quirky character, and what people see on the screen isn’t who he really is. It’s a persona.
People have trouble understanding that porn isn’t real life. I certainly do.
I’d say I hit the jackpot with Eddie. But I’ve also had skinny boyfriends. Shorter boyfriends. Darker skinned boyfriends. Lighter skinned boyfriends and boyfriends of all shapes and sizes—I don’t really have a type. Eddie is pretty much physically perfect and sexy but he has his own quirky personality and is super sweet and not at all what people perceive him to be on screen.
As an American dating a Brazilian, what’s best? Cut or uncut?
Um, I don’t really have a preference…
Speaking as an uncut Brit, Americans tend to either run for the hills shrieking or are maybe a bit too interested in that flap of skin.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love it! But I just don’t have a particular preference.
Okay. So you’ve got yourself a porn star body…
… I wouldn’t say that!
Well, I would. And you’ve got yourself an ex-porn star boyfriend. So… when is the Marc Jacobs sex tape coming out?
Well if there is one, it’ll just be for me—it will not be for public consumption!
How old fashioned! Am I right in thinking that your mother’s soft porn magazines turned you on to the male form?
Yeah, it was Playgirl and Viva. I found them in her room. I saw the naked men in them and thought ‘Wow! That looks good!’
What was the look back then?
Hairy chests, moustaches, that kind of thing.
And big hair?
The camp counsellor you’ve mentioned in the past you had your first crush on. Did he look like a Viva model?
Probably. A younger version.
So he was the first time you kind of transferred what you were feeling for the Viva models to an actual guy?
And nothing came of that?
No. I was quite young. I was nine.
Oh! Yes, that is quite young. How old were you when you did do something about it?
Thirteen, I think.
That’s still quite young. You must have had an adventurous spirit from an early age.
Oh, I did!
How did it go?
It was pretty awkward. It was with a friend who was staying over. But it was a first experience, I guess.
Would you say that things have changed a lot for gay people since you were a kid?
I think so. We can get married now.
Why are there so many gay men at the top of the fashion business?
I don’t know. There are plenty of straight men in fashion as well. There are also plenty of straight women in fashion. I wouldn’t really single gay men out. The people I admire most in fashion are straight women. Coco Chanel, Vivienne Westwood, Miuccia Prada, Elsa Schiaparelli. I consider them to be the most important designers in the history of fashion—the most inventive and creative, and they’re all women. So there you go.
What about the ‘misogynist’ brush that some people like to tar all gay designers with?
I don’t think we get accused of that so much with what we do. First of all there’s no real vulgarity and there isn’t that kind of misogynous approach. We don’t bind women or objectify them sexually. I don’t think the style of the clothes we make would put me in that category. More appropriate perhaps in other cases…
You’re not going to name any names?
Damn! What’s your secret to surviving the queer curse of Paris fashion houses? Galliano and McQueen have come and gone at Dior and Givenchy, but you remain in command at Louis Vuitton, where you’ve been since 1997.
I think I’m just very passionate about making clothes and I guess if there is a secret it’s having a very good team of people who also share that passion and natural curiosity for taking on something new each season, which keeps it sort of fresh and surprising and challenging for us. As long as the will is there and you work with a group of creative and able people then you can continue to produce season after season.
Is being a fashion designer a lonely business? It can look that way sometimes, to us civilians.
No, I don’t feel that it is, not for me. Every day I spend a lot of time with people I admire and respect and actually really like—and hopefully like me as well. Both for Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton. So I’m not alone. I also have a great group of friends whom I’m inspired by, although I don’t get to see nearly as much of them as I’d like to. So I wouldn’t say my life is very lonely.
What do you think of the presidential candidates’ presentation? Any style tips for them?
I’m just going to say that I’m going to vote for Barack Obama. I think he did a great job as President and I’d love to see him serve again. That’s all I’ll say.
C’mon! I’m trying to get you to be shallow here!
I know people make a big deal about what they look like, but to me it really doesn’t matter. The qualities I look for in a President or a First Lady are an ability to run the country and be intelligent and honest. I really don’t give a toss about what they wear!
I however did give a toss or two over what you and Eddie were wearing to the beach in those Rio snaps—Speedos. The much-maligned anatomically-correct Ozzie beachwear looked spiffing on both of you.
I only get the chance to go to the beach once, maybe twice, a year and I love to catch the sun, so wearing knee-length board-shorts seems counterproductive. I like to lie on the beach and tan wearing as little as possible. I like to be as close to naked as I can be.
And God bless you for that. Do you have any plans for your half-century this April?
Currently I’m planning to go to Rio and spend a nice time with Eddie. I’m not having a big party or anything like that. I don’t like celebrating birthdays. I know everyone says 50 is a big deal but it’s just another year as far as I’m concerned, and I don’t want to make a fuss of it.
Either way, in or out of Speedos, we can be sure you won’t be looking 50 in April.
God, I hope not!
This interview was given at the end of last year. Here’s what Marc looked at hitting 50 and the beach last week with Harry in Rio.
Special thanks to Philip Utz
On The Jonathan Ross Show last night David Beckham was the star guest. He looked great of course. But I kept finding myself staring at Mr Beckham’s foot.
Naturally, it was shod tastefully and expensively – in keeping with his John Hamm hairdo and 60s-style black whistle and flute. But that wasn’t what drew my eye. No, it was the way it was trembling.
The icon of the age had feet of jelly.
Or at least, a foot of jelly. David (I think we can use first names here; in fact, I’m sure he would insist on it) was sitting cross-legged on the sofa, facing Ross’ chins. His face was smiling radiantly, teeth and eyes flashing and laughing. His body language speaking of the casual grace and ease of beauty, celebrity, money. He was doing in other words all the things you’re supposed to do on a chat show sofa.
But his raised foot was shaking. Violently. And in doing so it succeeded in saying much more than the other end. It made me think of the proverbial serenity of swans underscored by that furious paddling you know is going on beneath the water-line.
There are plenty of good reasons to be terrified on a chat show, even one not presented by Jonathan Ross and his unaccountable vanity. But Becks has more reasons than most. He has a lot to lose. If by chance, and much against his better judgement, not to mention media training, he were to actually say something or have, god forbid, an opinion it would cost him millions in corporate fees.
At one point he was talking about, I think (but can’t be sure because even when you try to listen to David it’s very hard to focus), the benefits of his football academies for getting kids away from their Playstations and outdoors. But then caught himself: ‘Not that there’s anything wrong with Playstation, of course,’ he added very hastily. And not that there’s anything wrong with another Sony endorsement deal, either.
Or maybe his foot was trembling because he knew that later Jonathan Ross would pull his pants down and shove his own Aussiebum packaged groin into David’s famous face. (No, this actually happened and was even more disturbing than it sounds.)
In the ad break there was more David. David out of his expensive suit and in his pants, spinning around, selling David, and selling his H&M ‘bodywear’.
In keeping with the trademark passivity of metrosexuality in general and uber-metro Becks in particular, the ad features much batting of long eyelashes, and arms held defenceless above the head, as the camera licks its lens up and down and around his legs and torso. Teasingly never quite reaching the package we’ve already seen a zillion times on the side of buses and in shop windows – but instead delivering us his cotton-clad bum, his logo and his million dwollar smile.
I’m here for you. Want me. Take me. Wear me. Stretch me. Soil me. But above all: buy me.
All, curiously, to the strains of The Animals: ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’. Is it meant to be ironic? What after all is to be misunderstood? Don’t the images tell us everything? Even what we don’t want to know. About the total commodification of masculinity.
Perhaps Beck’s foot could have told us, but alas it didn’t appear in the ad and was unavailable for comment.
Tip: DAKrolak & Mark Rangel