Marc Jacobs and Ava Nirui met because of a sweatshirt. The hoodie – a plain pull-over with ‘Mark Jacobes’ in a childlike scrawl across the front, saw Nirui cross the line from viral fashion bootlegger (known as @avanope) to bonafide collaborator, and resulted in her being offered a full-time role at the brand.
For Jacobs, hiring Nirui was, as everything else in his world, the result of pure instinct. So far, it’s more than paid off – collaborations under her direction have included the likes of Cactus Plant Flea Market and Stay Rats (which even saw the elusive Frank Ocean model). At their heart, such partnerships are current expressions of the things that the brand has stood for since its earliest days in 80s New York: community, inclusivity, creativity, self-expression – and being a little bit of an outsider. “It’s been so amazing to have the keys to do all of that,” Nirui acknowledges, referencing the trust that exists between them. “Marc is like a mentor to me.”
Now, Jacobs and Nirui are ready to unveil their latest project: Heaven.
What is Heaven? It’s a series of clothes, from baby tees to sweater vests, combat trousers to hoodies. But it’s also a double-headed Teddy bear (originally held by a naked Katie Grand in the pages of a 1994 copy of Dazed). It’s young musicians like Dazed 100 star Beabadoobee and the green-haired Vegyn. It’s your teenage bedroom. It’s Gregg Araki, whose apocalyptic typography features on t-shirts. It’s legendary Japanese street style mag FRUiTS, whose founder Shoichi Aoki has shot the lookbook. And it’s so, so much more than that.
With a jaw-dropping list of collaborators who have contributed their talents to the project – from curating books, to making art, or shooting films – it’s a reflection of Marc Jacobs’ obsession with pop culture heroes, creative weirdos, and a new generation of icons. And it’s proof that the feeling is more than mutual. (The resulting projects will be revealed over the coming weeks on a newly-created Instagram page, @heavn.)
Heaven will not replace any current lines, but join the existing planets in the Marc Jacobs solar system – like The Marc Jacobs and the (as for now, unscheduled) runway shows. “There is space for a younger audience; there is space for a runway show; there is space for an online shopper,” Jacobs affirms. “So, it’s not about saying: ’Oh, that’s dead’ or jumping on a bandwagon, it’s just going back to our roots and saying we allow space for things to happen. And Heaven is one of those things that is happening now.”
Below, Jacobs and Nirui talk Heaven, creativity, and why New York will never die – despite what you may have heard.
Ava Nirui: Marc, where did the name Heaven come from? What does the name Heaven mean to you?
Marc Jacobs: It goes way back. There’s a group of people who are all my friends and almost like my chosen family – Anna Sui, Steven Meisel, Louie Chaban. We always used to use the word ‘heaven’ to describe something we loved. If something was perfect or if someone looked amazing, you’d be like, she’s heaven. They’re heaven. It’s heaven. Heaven was it. It’s done, perfect. Heaven, I love it.
When you were conceiving the collection there was a Dazed image of Katie Grand holding a two-headed teddy bear on the moodboard – why was that particularly inspirational?
Ava Nirui: Obviously, Katie is someone who is so linked with Marc’s history and one of Marc’s muses. We felt that the double-headed teddy bear was something that really symbolised Marc Jacobs in the way that it’s classic but demented, the two heads being the duality, the two genders and everything in between. We just thought it was a really playful thing that fit into the Marc Jacobs world really seamlessly.
Marc Jacobs: When Ava showed me this symbol of the two-headed bear, it just organically started to feel like a very natural and urgent thing to do and say. My big contribution (was) to say, ‘Ava, I love it. Go for it.’
Ava Nirui: Also, all of these collaborators and community members that I brought to Marc for Heaven – it’s funny to me because Marc’s world, and the people who are contained within Marc’s world, like the Sofias and the Courtneys, Harmony, Marilyn Manson and all of those people, are people I’m drawn to and obsessed with.
A lot of them are kind of outsiders, rebellious in their own ways.
Ava Nirui: The way Marc works and has always worked, has been anti-establishment and very rebellious and very subversive. I think that this project was just such a natural, organic progression (from that). Marc also being so incredibly trusting, allowed for it to be what it is now – which is so many collaborations with friends and people who are relevant to his brand, to his label and people who really authentically slot into this world.
Marc Jacobs: I think that’s really the only way for something to have soul, to not study it, not calculate it and I loved that from Ava’s first sweatshirt that she did, there is that kind of guerilla attitude. It’s instinctive: I had an idea, I went out and did it. I do have complete trust in Ava and if I didn’t I’d be trying to micromanage and that goes completely against anything with soul. I’m very much someone who believes in collaboration in the true sense of the word. I know that that’s what it takes for something to have authenticity and credibility, to allow different people their voice and their vision. I act in some way as a director or an editor or just as a collaborator.
“The way Marc works and has always worked, has been anti-establishment and very rebellious and very subversive. I think that this project was just such a natural, organic progression” – Ava Nirui
Why was Gregg Araki’s work something that felt relevant to bring into the collection?
Marc Jacobs: Ava brought the idea to collaborate with Gregg Araki to me and I sprung to life because he has always been one of my favourite filmmakers. When I brought Stephen Sprouse to Paris to collaborate with me on the Vuitton show we did together, Stephen and I both had this huge crush on (actor) James Duval. (Stephen) would come over to my apartment in Paris and we would watch and rewatch The Doom Generation and all of the Araki films and that was just something we bonded over and something we loved. So when Ava presented this idea of Gregg Araki, it almost made me feel like, Why haven’t I done this before? I’ve always been a fan and his work has always been so inspirational to me.
Ava Nirui: I just knew Marc would love Gregg Araki, even though it was not something he had explicitly said to me before. The collaboration was conceived before the quarantine but some of those title cards that we used (on the clothing) are so relevant to now. ‘The alienation generation’, and it feeling so rebellious and angsty. I just feel like it’s kind of perfect for the time.
When I watched Euphoria, I was like, this is just Gregg Araki with an HBO budget.
Marc Jacobs: Definitely. There are definitely ties. Sometimes there are just people who are so sensitive and have this instinctive connection to storytelling. I felt the connection we had to these Araki films was like, here is someone who is telling a story in a way that we understand. You just related so primitively to the content and the visual, the angst, the sexuality and everything about it.
Ava Nirui: Obviously I think everyone knows some of the most iconic fashion collaborations came from Marc and you’ve also always been so supportive of up and coming people, designers and artists. So Marc, why do you think it’s so important to be so trusting in supporting these up and coming talents?
Marc Jacobs: I think I’m just a genuine fan, I went into fashion because I loved it. One of the things I didn’t love about fashion before I got started was this idea of an ivory tower designer, a designer who takes credit for everything. It’s funny, I was with Kanye last week and he said to me people in music play music for other fellow musicians and artists when they do work they share with other artists to get their input and feedback. One of the places where that’s not the case is in fashion.
Fashion is so about ownership about something and I find that so many designers put so much energy into trying to protect and own an idea and it’s just beyond me. That’s a system I’ve never understood, I’ve always felt like creativity and being artistic is a community. I think it’s the only reason why with all the frustrations and difficulties of being in business and being a designer for so long, that I feel like I still want to do this job because I still feel there are so many interesting and great stories out there.
Obviously things like the Louis Vuitton Murakami collaboration are being discovered by a whole new generation – what’s it like to see people discover these things for the first time?
Marc Jacobs: I think it’s wonderful. It’s interesting because, and I’m saying this because we’re talking about Murakami, Virgil sent me DM saying: ‘You’ve set the stage for this’. I don’t need credit but I just think it’s really nice that some people recognise it. What’s funny is that there is a whole younger generation that doesn’t know anything about me and they don’t know anything about these collaborations and where they came from and that’s okay. I’m not fighting for ownership of these ideas. I love that they meant something so substantial that people relook at them. That’s the greatest reward to me. I’m going to totally screw up this quote but Chanel used to say, ‘He who insists on his own creativity has no memory.’ It’s not important to insist you were the one who invented something or created it because let’s face it – everything comes from somewhere.
What you were just saying about ideas of ownership Marc, Ava that reminds me of the bootleg work you were doing originally on Instagram. Do you feel like you have a similar mentality there?
Ava Nirui: I think the biggest similarity between the bootleg stuff and the way Marc works is truly doing your own thing and being satisfied with your own work. Also, not really caring about the repercussions. Something Marc was giving me advice on was ways to navigate working for a corporation and how you can get away with being rebellious. Marc actually had really amazing words there…
Marc Jacobs: Karl Lagerfeld once said – and again, I’ll probably misquote this – you need to disrespect something to move forward. When I collaborated with Stephen Sprouse, one of my challenges was to make the monogram fresh again. I felt the only way we could do that was by disrespecting it and defacing it, very much like Duchamp did with the Mona Lisa when he painted the moustache. I think that’s something that you can’t check with people on, you just have to do it and let the chips fall if they may. Apologise afterwards if necessary or just accept responsibility for it afterwards. I think that’s how you make something genuine. For a good, healthy amount of disrespect, there has to be admiration.
I remember when I was doing certain things at Vuitton and I was getting my hands slapped by the president of Vuitton or by the head of communications, Mr Arnault would be like ’Look, you’re not here for a popularity contest. I hired you to make a difference. I hired you to make young people look at this brand differently. So you may not win friends along the way but that’s what you’re here to do.’
In fashion, that line between creative freedom and keeping certain people happy is hard to strike. How do you manage it?
Marc Jacobs: My experience is at the end of the day if you want to sleep well you have to trust your instincts and your gut. You can’t please everyone. I think there’s always a balance though, every action has a reaction. How important is the integrity of your idea and where can you conform or compromise, so that your idea can be heard? This is something everybody in life has to straddle. We all have to balance what allows us to be creative and get our voice out there with the integrity of our voice. How we navigate that is part of what happens when you want to share what your work is with others. If you want it to be out there, you can’t bite the hand that feeds you but you also can’t be so respectful that you get nowhere and say nothing.
“If you want your work to be out there, you can’t bite the hand that feeds you but you also can’t be so respectful that you get nowhere and say nothing” – Marc Jacobs
The pandemic obviously made a lot of people reconsider their relationship to New York. Some people have been proclaiming that the city is dead…
Marc Jacobs: New York is not dead and New York is never going to die. The city will grow from what it’s gone through and people who are artistic within the city will thrive in a different way. Creativity is essential. If there was no art, no fashion, no music, no poetry, what would everyone be doing in quarantine? They’d be Zooming each other naked and they would have no documentaries or movies to discuss. Art is essential, it’s just the way it is. We need water, we need food, we need shelter. Everything else is superfluous but we wouldn’t want to live a life without art. I think it was Nietzsche who said we have art so we don’t die of reality. I think it’s kind of true, creativity of all forms is essential and New York in all forms is one of the most creative and vital places in the world.
Ava Nirui: I just feel like the people who are always here are still here. I think New York, like everywhere else, will recover. I think that creative talent is certainly still here and I feel like I’m discovering people every single day who live in New York, who are incredible.
Marc Jacobs: I think also when we speak about New York in this sense, it’s not about New York City as a geographical zone, it’s about a concept. Why do young people dream about coming to New York from other places? I think New York represents a spirit that will never die. It’s a place of dreams, it’s a place that you look towards as a place to be free. If you’ve come from these other places which aren’t as accepting and you can’t belong. No one comes to New York to fit in, they come to belong. It’s like an embracing entity, there is space for anything and anyone here. With the drive, ambition, creativity and imagination, anyone can be a presence. That idea and that essence will never die.
Heaven is available now at MarcJacobs.com/heaven