Marc Jacobs: Now we are ten

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The Designer is celebrating a decade of his second line, Marc. Its youthful, quirky vision belies a serious fashion success story, says Harriet Walker

Ten years is a long time in fashion's goldfish bowl of communal memory. The past decade takes in the birth of e-commerce, two major wars, a technology boom, the rise and rise of the stock market, followed by its subsequent crash. It's difficult terrain to negotiate, especially when the aim is to remain not just upright but positively ebullient.

But designer Marc Jacobs, who launched second line Marc by Marc Jacobs in 2001, has managed it – this season he celebrates the tenth birthday of the range, with a capsule of re-issued favourites from the past decade.

"I was in New York when he opened his first Marc by Marc store," recalls editor of Glamour magazine Jo Elvin. "We just about busted down the doors to get in there."

In contrast to the eponymous mainline, in his second line Jacobs creates youthful and zesty pieces that chime with a certain element of contemporary youth culture: signatures include a grungey art student aesthetic, mixed with Seventies-inspired knits and flares in childish brights and clashing patterns. Dresses are unashamedly girlish, from tiered prom-dresses to pin-tucked dirndls, taken from the Fifties and given an Eighties-esque self-consciously trashy overhaul.

"When Marc Jacobs introduced his new line, it really felt like a breath of fresh air," remembers Holli Rogers, buying director at Net-a-Porter. "Iconic pieces such as military-inspired jackets, printed scarves and multi-striped knits sit alongside pretty and feminine dresses, forming the backbone of the collection. A fashion innovator with an off-beat sensibility, Marc Jacobs always expresses fun and individuality, whether mainline or diffusion."

It's gauging the subtle difference between the two that really makes or breaks a brand, and Jacobs traverses the line perfectly. His main collection is always more luxurious, classic and grown-up – though no less desirable – providing a magnifying glass through which to view its more affordable cousin. Jacobs mixes influences and inspirations between the two each season, offering a "way in" to high fashion for his younger and thriftier fans.

"It speaks to a different woman with a different lifestyle," says Calgary Avansino, Vogue's executive fashion editor. "It was the first time two brands within the same company embraced two very separate demographics successfully. You never feel that one is more important than the other."

Indeed, Jacobs does his very best to ensure that, between mainline and Marc by Marc, he caters to almost every budget imaginable – handbags for £300 may not seem a snip, but designer goods made from quality leather are difficult to find elsewhere for this price. Likewise, witty and irreverent logo T-shirts – often featuring a design for each city that is home to a Marc Jacobs store – sell for £25, while lipstick-shaped pens, heart-shaped compacts and branded keyrings are the kooky stuff of pound shops, presented in rummage bins dotted around the impeccably cool stores.

In New York's West Village, Bleecker Street seems practically devoted to the designer, with a mainline boutique, a Marc by Marc store and an accessories shop all in close proximity. The cool crowd and cognoscenti mill on both sides, sampling cupcakes from the world famous Hummingbird Bakery, for which there is often a queue around the block. The scene is not dissimilar at each of the Marc Jacobs doorways, with tourists, bargain hunters, fashion editors and teenagers all keen to get a piece of the action.

This is Marc Jacobs' heartland: the downtown bohemian scene from which he first drew grungey inspiration for his infamous 1993 collection for American sportswear label Perry Ellis. That show, which saw models dressed in cartoon motif T-shirts, beanie hats and faded denims, ultimately led to Jacobs' dismissal from the middle-of-the-road label, but his vision was an unmistakably on-the-nose reflection of a fashion Zeitgeist, one to which Marc by Marc Jacobs looks again and again.

"The Marc by Marc girl epitomises everything that is urban, understated and cool," says Elle's executive fashion editor Stacey Duguid. "She's never obvious, more grunge-sexy than overtly 'hot'. The Perry Ellis collection spawned a million editorial images, and it's grunge that is at the heart of Marc by Marc Jacobs."

That said, there are ladylike elements to the range, always mischeviously subverted by unexpected colours or outré detailing. The look overall is whimsical and eclectic – never too sullen but neither is it saccharine.

"I saved up for a drummer boy jacket from one of his very first collections," adds Stacey Duguid. "I wore it with Converse and ripped jeans. At the time, it felt like I was spending a fortune but I still wear it today – minus the ripped jeans."

Indeed, every aficionado has a story about a much-loved piece. For Glamour's Jo Elvin, it was a red coat. "I wore it for a few seasons, and it really looked like a child's coat with big buttons and a very rounded collar, but people regularly stopped me on the street to ask me where I bought it."

Marc by Marc Jacobs' tenth birthday capsule collection, available now; 24-25 Mount St, London W1, 020 7399 1690       

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