How Marc Jacobs works! New York fashion designer Marc Jacobs is known for his quirky and ultra-creative approach when creating his ready-to-wear collections. There have been countless feature stories in fashion magazines and a couple documentary movies on how he approaches fashion. He frequently draws from a myriad of inspirations – from Grey Gardens to Patty Hearst to Studio 54 to antique markets. He then blends all these influences together and tailors beautifully crafted day dresses, maxi coats and pantsuits. To be honest, I never really got his vintage-looking collections until I visited his boutique in New York’s Soho District. When I saw the clothes merchandised and dozens of women trying them on, then I got it. It’s more of a laid-back lifestyle look with a tiny bit of eccentricity and a little glam. What his collections stand out from similar brands is Marc’s tailoring skills. He understands silhouette and detailing better than most.
Marc Jacobs Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear Collection
So while Marc’s fashion process has been extensively chronicled, his fragrance creation style has not. Until now. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Lori Singer, a Coty Prestige executive in New York who works hand-in-hand with Marc creating all his luxe fragrances. She worked for many years with Calvin Klein before moving over to Marc’s brand. So she will work with the designer from the very first idea to the moment it arrives in store. This often takes 2 ½ years!
Coty’s Lori Singer
“It all starts with a name for Marc,” she says. “He can’t start talking about notes or a bottle or a theme until he has the name in his head. Once he has a name he truly loves, then we can get started. I was actually at a black tie event one evening that Marc was attending and he asked if he could speak with me. He pulled me to the side of the room and said ‘I’ve been thinking all about our next fragrance and I know exactly what I want to call it! I want to name it Decadence.” She loved the name and ran back to her iPhone and started Googling the name to see if anyone had registered the name for fragrance. (Almost every name for a perfume has been registered and trademarked so Coty has to buy that domain for every country in the world before proceeding. It is a big process for the legal department and truly the most challenging aspect of launching a scent globally today.)
What is interesting about Jacobs’ creative process is he can’t be rushed. “Marc knows what he wants but there are times when I’ll be pressing him to make a decision about say a bottle design and he’ll turn to me and say ‘I just don’t know yet. I’m sorry. I have to live with it for a little bit more.’” He’s very much in tune with what his customers want and what other scents are selling well in the market so he comes prepared to every meeting.
The idea for his latest fragrance “Decadence” came from the idea of a girl who is an extrovert and a bit of a show off. While Daisy is the sweet, girl-next-door, Decadence is a good girl playing bad as he describes her. She’s the one who will jump up on the bar at a club and dance wildly. She’s the one who wants to be noticed when she walks in the door of a party. In fact, she is the life of the party. “It also allowed us enter a more sophisticated and upscale part of the business. We knew we wanted to elevate the Marc Jacobs fragrance house so this name was the perfect way to do it.”
“A girl chooses to be decadent.” – Marc Jacobs
When Marc presented the concept of creating a bottle in the shape of one of his most iconic handbags, the Coty team gasped. This is one of the most intricate and expensive bottles they’ve ever produced. The arched cap is wrapped in green python, one of Marc’s favourite fashion accents. It has a luxe gold chain and a silky black tassle – one of the hottest accessories for Fall 2015. “It’s truly a new twist of putting perfume in your purse. It’s a purse-shaped bottle in your purse!”
“Marc was truly involved in every little detail of this project. It became something he was so incredibly passionate about,” continues Singer. “To give you one example, when we decided that the cap was going to be this emerald green python, Marc had his leather factory in Italy create a large piece of python skin for us to work with so we could model it for the colour, the design, etc. So, he had this done and it took several months. The first skin he got, he wasn’t happy with. It was the right pattern but it was the wrong colour. So he sent away for another one. So a few weeks later we met. I came to his office there was over a 10-foot piece of green python in his office. I sat with him for over two hours and watched him as he studied this piece of python and decided on the perfect square that he wanted to be put on the cap of the bottle. He was looking for the ideal colour, the scale of the print, the size, the shape, the contrast between the green and the black – all these little details. And he finally found the perfect square. He cut it out and I held on to it for dear life. Then, we at Coty worked really hard to replicate it exactly.” It took many months of very talented bottle designers to replicate the design and colour perfectly. “In the end, I came up with over 100 different versions of this snakeskin cap – some were a bit more shiny, some were a bit more matte, some were a little bit lighter, some were a little bit darker. And Marc really took the time to select the one he wanted.”
“Another fun fact is that there is over 625 miles of gold chain that was produced for this launch. But that wasn’t enough for Marc. He really challenged us to design the perfect box. And the result is a green velvet box that feels very luxurious. “For Marc, it is often about the mixture of materials – the shiny with the matte, the soft with the hard. And that is what we did with the box. You’ll see the velvet feel to the box with the gold logo and name.”
When it came to blending the fragrance, Marc insisted on over 100 versions of the scent before he got exactly what he wanted – a sultry floral with amber & vetiver notes. He worked with perfumer Annie Buzantian and Anne Gotlieb. It contains notes of Italian plum, saffron, iris, sambac jasmine, liquid amber, vetiver and papyrus wood. “Few people know that saffron is more expensive than gold. And all the ingredients we used in this perfume are amongst the most refined in elegant in perfumery today. That was very important to Marc.”
So what is it like working closely with Marc? “He definitely knows what he wants. He knows where he wants to take his brand and he gives this all a lot of thought. He knew he wanted another fragrance pillar under the Marc Jacobs brand and it just took him some time to wrap his head around what he wanted. When he came up with the name Decadence, he was sure it was right. Other designers don’t work that way. They may start with an idea or a bottle and develop a scent from there. With Marc, it is the name and the concept first. In terms of fragrance notes, he’s pretty open. He listens to the perfumers. He was looking for the warmer, more sensual notes for this particular scent. He smells notes and tells us what he likes and doesn’t and why.” Singer says Marc is very present in meetings. “When you meet with Marc, he comes to work and he’s very engaged and interested about the project. He’s very available.”
The giveaway: I gave away a bottle of Decadence to one lucky reader. Congrats to Belinda from Canada. We drew her name from all those who commented below.
Marc Jacobs Decadence is available in Canada at Hudson’s Bay stores and thebay.com