Last night Central St Martins hosted an 'in conversation' between designer Marc Jacobs and writer Sarah Mower, who was appointed Professor at St. Martins last year. It was quite a coup, even for the esteemed college, and the industry turn-out was interstellar: Venetia Scott, Katie Grand, Giles Deacon, Jonathan Saunders, Richard Nicoll, Peter Jensen all in attendance (and those were only the ones sitting within spitting distance of me).
(The slim, tanned and ebullient) Jacobs had brought along his 'head of bags' and 'head of shoes' from Vuitton and Mower used the opportunity to discuss the designer's career principally through the prism of his time at the luxury luggage house. He described his arrival at the company, which had never designed an apparel line and explained how he used the bag to develop the "Vuitton woman" in order to ascertain what she would wear.
There was some discussion of the first '7th Avenue house' he worked for and then the last two collections he did for Perry Ellis, from which he was sacked for his legendary 1992 grunge collection. He had great fun reminding the audience that at Perry Ellis, he was the first to have hired Tom Ford who he described as "a waspy, tasteful character: at least that was what he was affecting then". Ouch!
What was interesting from a fashion journalism perspective was Mower's dogged attempt to unpack Jacobs' famous referencing system and the designer's reluctance to play game. When she brought up the 'inspiration trips' his considerable team undertake each season, Jacobs shrugged it off, claiming never to go. If Mower referred to a show as showcasing 'the Balmoral collection' or 'the one with dots and pleats', he was at pains to contradict these labels, always stressing that they started with that reference but ended up somewhere else. "I can't bear it when designer go on about inspiration", he said, "If a girl wants to wear it and feels good then who cares?"
But Mower was right to persist with this, as it finally became clear that 'the reference' does in fact play a vital part in Marc Jacobs' creative process. Though the finished garments may not always bear much resemblance to a historical source or storyboard, the designer conceded that the point when he knew a collection was working was when it communicated a sense of familiarity, nostalgia even. "I look for comfort", he admitted, "and not in terms of how something feels on, but in the familiarity of its reference".