a beautiful life

Marc Jacobs on Beauty and Not Being Nutella

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Getty Images

The word perfect is one of the 20-plus tattoos on Marc Jacobs’s body, inked on his right wrist. He insists that it’s not about chasing an ideal but realizing you’re good enough. In 2009, he told the Telegraph that the word first resonated with him in rehab. “I put it there to remind me, for when I’m looking at myself and wishing that I could be stronger in this way or better at that thing, and I can just go, ‘No. I’m exactly how I need to be.’”

Perfect isn’t just a state of mind — it’s also a perfume franchise in his Marc Jacobs Fragrances business. The designer created Perfect first in 2020 with a campaign of 42 models (plus Lila Moss) handpicked from a social-media casting call. Its success launched Perfect Intense, with intriguing notes of daffodil, jasmine, and roasted almond. The Cut talked to Jacobs, who showed up to the Zoom wearing pearls, about the pleasure of being misunderstood, dressing for yourself, and beauty in suffering.

What role did fashion and beauty play for you during the pandemic?

Some people may have thought it wasn’t essential, but not me. It’s absolutely essential, and so is art, music, and film. I didn’t want to sit through the pandemic naked with no nail polish, no perfume, no makeup, on Zoom with no books, movies, TV shows, or art to discuss. That’s just not a world or life I want to live in.

With lockdown, I discovered that even without a place to go, I felt better when I got up and went into the bathroom, showered, did my beauty ritual, went to the closet, and picked up something fun to wear. Even if I sat in the living room all by myself with takeout food, I felt better about that day. I hate an unmade bed, and I don’t like to go without showering or grooming. It was obvious to me that the more I took care of myself in those times, the more I could be of service, be kind and friendly to others. The better I felt about me, the better I felt about you.

Did beauty change at all for you?

What’s changed is that I’ve become more playful with beauty. During the lockdown, I had some makeup with me and started playing with it. I feel even more adamant now that how we look, feel, and smell is so important to self-care.

I discovered that I’m not only doing this to attract other people or to get other people to say, “Wow.” I don’t do it for other people. I do it for myself. I really enjoy it. The most important thing is that I feel well, and when I use fragrance, I feel well, and same as when I groom and do beauty treatments and makeup and get dressed up. I feel good because I get to do it, and it’s a luxury that I can’t live without.

What do you wish people understood more about what you do?

I don’t know. I’m kind of okay with people not understanding. They say that if you please everyone, you’ve done nothing. Then you’re a jar of Nutella. You can’t please everyone, nor will everyone understand you. I don’t even know that I fully understand myself. I’m always in the process of learning about myself. I’m a mystery to myself sometimes, too.

What I always hope is that people will be more open-minded to things and less black-and-white and allow for more gray. I hope they will be less binary and more open to possibility. I wish people could truly understand how beautiful it is to see things as possible, rather than negate things because they don’t fall into categories, rules, or ideas they’ve inherited. I wish people would understand how wonderful it is to be open-minded.

What’s one fan experience that has stood out to you?

I feel delighted anytime someone comes up to me and says, “I’m such a fan.” Especially if it’s on the street and someone I don’t know, and they say something like, “Oh my God, you’re Marc Jacobs, I wrote a paper about you.” Even if it is sometimes an annoyance because I’m busy doing something or in a rush, I really do smile and appreciate that.

I think back to when I was a kid and first ran into Calvin Klein and [Elio] Fiorucci. I was like, “Oh my God, you’re Calvin Klein,” and he was with his daughter, Marci. I was also 14 or 15 at the time. When someone expresses that kind of joy to me, it really moves me, so that’s the greatest fan experience.

What would you say is the biggest no you’ve heard in your career?

“No, you can’t spend more money.” I’m terrible with a budget. I hate budgets. I like feeling free to create. I know that with the level I create on, the resources, that it often comes down to having money to do it. Progressively over the years, it’s cost more and more. It becomes very boring discussing budgets when you’re trying to be creative.

Unfortunately, ____ is worth it.

Suffering is worth it. I believe that good things come from hard work or elbow grease. Even with a great body, it takes exercise and diet. Walking around in high heels is sort of painful. It’s all worth it if you get something from it.

What’s the most luxurious beauty experience you’ve had?

Miss Fame painted my face once. She was doing a YouTube series called Painted by Fame, and I agreed to be her subject. She transformed me into her aunt, Auntie Fame. It was six intense hours of makeup and hair. She removed my eyebrows, and there was all the wig tape and the whole thing. And it ended up coming off in just 20 minutes, even though it was so intense.

You have a tattoo that says “perfect.The word perfect can sometimes have negative connotations. Did you have to make peace with that word? 

No, the word perfect came to me from a saying from the I Ching. It says, “I’m a perfect being in a perfect world, where everything that happens benefits me completely.” For me, I’ve reduced that to one word: perfect. It’s about self-love, acceptance, and appreciation. It’s about learning from an experience and believing the positive. Or about the importance of learning through an experience, whether it’s one you like or you don’t.

How did you encapsulate perfect in a fragrance?

The ingredients are beautiful, and it smells beautiful. Indulgence in perfume — I find that perfect. You’re perfect as you are. But the perfect fragrance is the fragrance you love and love wearing.

When you look back at your career, has there been a particular moment that felt perfect to you?

I had this genuine feeling at the last show (fall 2020) we did that what we had presented was perfect. I know there were a couple of mistakes, but for the first time in my life, I didn’t harp on them. I loved the way it was presented. I loved the things that were presented. The reaction to it was perfect. The music was perfect. Everything about it was perfect.

I felt it at the time, and that was what was so weird. I even said to Katie Grand, who was working with me, “If this was the last show I ever did, I would be happy because it was perfect.” Even repeating it to you, I’m getting this crazy feeling throughout my body, which is telling me that as I tune into that moment, that is really what I felt.

Marc Jacobs on Beauty and Not Being Nutella