Born: New York City, New York, 1964. Education: Graduated from Parsons School of Design, New York, 1984. Career: Designer, Sketchbook label, for Ruben Thomas Inc., New York, 1984-85; managed own firm, 1986-88; named vice president for womenswear, Perry Ellis, 1988; head designer, Perry Ellis, New York, 1989-93, Marc Jacobs, from 1994; Marc Jacobs Look, distributed by Mitsubishi and Renown Look, 1996; opened Marc Jacobs Boutique in SoHo, New York, 1997; artistic director, Louis Vuitton, from 1997; designed Stain Boy t-shirt to benefit Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, 2000; introduced Marc, line of mid-priced sportswear, 2001. Awards: Parsons School of Design Perry Ellis Golden Thimble award, 1984; Council of Fashion Designers of America Perry Ellis award, 1988; Womenswear Designer of the Year award, 1992, 1998. Address: 163 Mercer Street, New York, NY 10012, USA. Website: www.marcjacobs.com.
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Marc Jacobs was from the start a fashion legend, a prodigy of mythical talent, tribulation, and triumph who attained unequivocal success and authority. The legend is indisputably true, but the clothing tells a similar and instructive story in which a special genius is realized—encyclopedic in its sources, poignantly romantic, remarkably sophisticated, and yet impudent and joyous. Through a succession of labels and collections, Jacobs has consistently demonstrated a strong personal sensibility and has altered the history of clothing forever.
Jacobs' first collection was hand-knit sweaters produced by Charivari, the New York clothing store where he worked as stock boy. Fatefully, those sweaters earned him the Perry Ellis Golden Thimble award at Parsons. Upon graduation in 1984, he designed Sketchbook for Ruben Thomas through the fall of 1985. There he created a memorable collection based on the film Amadeus. In 1986 he began designing his own label, first with backing from Jack Atkins and later from Onward Kashiyama.
In late 1988, Jacobs was named vice president for womenswear at Perry Ellis, succeeding Patricia Pastor, who had worked with and succeeded Ellis. Along the way, there were Homeric afflictions and distress, ranging from a major theft at the Ruben Thomas showroom to a fire that gutted his Kashiyama studio and destroyed his fall 1988 collection and fabrics two months before showings. The appointment at Perry Ellis was, of course, only another trial for the 25-year-old designer. As Peggy Edersheim wrote in Manhattan, Inc., "Instead of staying one step ahead of the bill collector, he now has to worry about keeping up with Calvin Klein," a prodigious challenge in leadership for one of the principal sportswear houses in America. Jacobs, however, made a great critical success of Perry Ellis, reinstilling the firm with the bountiful energy and excitement of its founder.
Significantly, Jacobs' works reflected the design skills of Ellis before him. Jacobs did not perpetuate Ellis, but expanded on fundamental traits. For example, Ellis' imaginative palette was hauntingly revived in Jacobs' work, including extraordinary colors of fall in ocher, pumpkin, plum, camel, and rust, renewing the vitality of the Ellis spectrum. In fall 1991, Jacobs showed a grape princess coat over a brown cardigan, and a tangerine car coat with a butterscotch sweater and trousers with complete coloristic self-confidence. Ellis' sensuous fabrics were transmuted into Jacobs' hallmark sophistication: cashmere, camel, wool and angora, and mohair were soft, sumptuous materials.
Jacobs returns again and again to a basic vocabulary of design, treating each new interpretation of stripes, American flag, tartan, or gingham with a renewing luxury. His tailoring is also refined, returning to such classics as a Norfolk jacket or the eight-button double-breasted camel wool flannel suit for fall 1990 that appeared on the front page of Women's Wear Daily.
Jacobs' special interests include homages to other designers he admires in addition to Ellis. His "hugs" sequined dress of 1985 remembered Schiaparelli, and his spring 1990 English sycamore sequined short sheath "for Perry Ellis" was a touching tribute of the workroom and showroom environment of Perry Ellis, with its silver accents on blond sycamore. Jacobs has long loved the 1960s and returned not only in the early sweaters with happy faces but also in his voluminous mohair balloon sweaters for fall 1989. Suzy Menkes, reviewing his first collection at Perry Ellis, noted, "Jacobs' own-label collections have also been all-American, but much less innocent— celebrations of Miami Beach kitsch, sendups of the 1960s hippies and wacky versions of patchwork and down-home gingham."
New York-bred and street-smart, Jacobs is nimbly, naturally witty with a sliver of cynicism blended into his clothing. A spring 1990 redand-white tablecloth cotton shirt and jacket was accompanied by embroidered and beaded black ants; his early "Freudian slip" was a simple dress imprinted with the face of the Viennese master; fall 1991 showed sweaters with aphorisms borrowed from the tart embroideries of Elsie de Wolfe. Language, too, cropped up even in Jacobs' fall 1990 "fresh berries and cream" collection that included blueberry herringbone patterns on a cream field in wool jackets and the same design in short chiffon flirt skirts. His spring 1992 collection, focused on the Wild West and Southern California, was a smart synthesis of Hollywood glamor (including an Oscar® dress with the Academy Award® statue) and boot-stomping country-and-western cowgirls, a perfect combination of rodeo and Rodeo Drive.
For spring 1993 Jacobs introduced his now legendary "grunge" collection with flowered silk little-girl dresses paired with combat boots and $300 silk shirts printed to look like flannel. Though the sensational collection never made it into retail stores, it was highly regarded for its trendsetting individualism by the fashion press. But Perry Ellis executives discontinued their designer clothing lines shortly thereafter, trying to maintain their more tailored reputation rather than embracing Jacobs' more unconventional designs. This transition helped launch Marc Jacobs International, guided by long-time business partner Robert Duffy, and ultimately paved the way for Jacobs to take a position as artistic director for Louis Vuitton.
Prior to taking the prestigious post, however, Jacobs' designs gradually progressed from unconventional cool to urban couture. "His early work was characterized by a certain amount of high-concept whimsy but his designs in recent years have grown sleeker and subtler," wrote Zoe Heller of the New Yorker in 1997. Well-tailored striped pantsuits, knee-length skirts, and calf-length double-breasted satin coats were featured in his 1970s-inspired spring 1994 collection. A fitted wool jacket topped a silk floral dress, and jeweled cashmere cardigans framed taffeta slip dresses in his successful spring 1996 collection. Then in 1997, when 146-year-old luggage and handbag company Louis Vuitton decided to expand, luxury-goods conglomerate LVMH (which includes Christian Dior, Givenchy, Kenzo, Christian Lacroix, and Louis Vuitton) chose Jacobs as its artistic director. His mission was to design a full line of ready-to-wear fashions for the first time.
Jacobs' designs for Louis Vuitton began with secret LV logos hidden beneath buttons, hems, and soles of shoes. Then came Damier-print pony-skin slingbacks, patent leather-embossed Bernis bags in Crayola hues, and stiff raincoats and trenches splattered with tiny LVs. "Jacobs has taken the house's signature and gone native," wrote Sally Singer in Vogue (February 2000). For spring 2000, Jacobs offered simple pleated trousers in lightweight wool adorned with bead-lined pockets and "fabulous swirly prints in 1960s colors that transform a low-key office dress into a sexy diva frock," according to Singer.
His fall 2001 menswear collection for Louis Vuitton broke through trends once again when Jacobs snubbed the widespread military theme. Instead he dressed the "neo-romantic gentleman" in black leather pea coats with red trimmed buttonholes and bold stripy shirts worn under high-necked sweatshirts. His fall/winter 2001-2002 womenswear collection was "sheer perfection," according to Dana Thomas of the Fashion Windows website, writing in August 2001. Reminiscent of Jacqueline Kennedy during her White House years, small fitted jackets had cropped sleeves and there were bell skirts, princess coats, and soft empire-waist dresses. Fabrics included cotton flannel, silk twill, denim, jersey, and sealskin. Striking details like mink-covered buttons and sexy leather lace-up boots finished off the collection.
For Jacobs' own line, the fall 2001 season portrayed girlish innocence dressed in elegance and sophistication. The crowdpleasers were cashmere coats using oversized, childlike buttons, colorful trompe l'oeil lapels, yellow mohair and sequin coats, and edgy jersey dresses. And as if four lines of clothing weren't enough, Jacobs debuted his Marc collection in 2001, creating a lineup for his creased front, hip-hugging jeans. For fall, the Marc line included heavily-buttoned military coats mixed with multiple tiered skirts, pink and yellow striped jeans, and graffiti sweatshirts.
"Talents like Mr. Jacobs have become exceptional," wrote Amy Spindler of the New York Times. "He has become the most consistently strong, individualistic, real, live, kicking designer in New York." The legend of fashion prodigy is probably inseparably attached to Jacobs; that he has performed prodigiously as a leading master of American style in an immediate and seamless transition is indeed a marvel.
updated by Jodi Essey-Stapleton
Born: Ohio, 1953. Education: Attended Rhode Island School of Design for three months. Career: Worked briefly for Halston and Bill Blass; showed first collection, 1983; out of business, 1985-87; showed three lines, S, Post Punk Dress for Success, and Stephen Sprouse in own shop, 1987; opened satellite shop, Beverly Hills, 1988; out of business, 1988-92; designer, introducing Cyber Punk line, Bloomingdale's, 1992; signed licensing deal with Staff International, 1997; began working with Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton, 2000; designed gown for artist E.V. Day, 2000.
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A much lauded figure on the New York fashion scene in the early 1980s, Stephen Sprouse is one of the most notorious success-failure stories in the American fashion business. One of a number of designers with their roots in the rural backwaters of Indiana, Sprouse shares his origins with Norman Norell, Bill Blass, and Halston, for whom he worked briefly in the early 1970s. Reputedly already displaying a precocious talent by the age of 12 when he designed leopard-print jumpsuits, Sprouse went on to study for a mere three months at the Rhode Island School of Design before hitting the New York scene as a rock photographer.
In the late 1970s Sprouse made his name by designing stage clothes for Debbie Harry of the pop group Blondie, having met her in the kitchen of the flats they were sharing in New York's Bowery. His designs included ripped t-shirts, minis, and leotards, paving the way for the first of his collections in 1983. Sprouse's clothes displayed a nostalgia for the New York underground of the 1960s, particularly Andy Warhol and the Factory aesthetic, and he seemingly designed with Edie Sedgewick or Ultra Violet in mind. Revisionist rather than retro, the garments were a witty caricature of the wildest excesses of 1960s fashion, harking back to the days of Betsey Johnson at Paraphernalia—yet tempered by Sprouse's New Wave sensibilities.
Sprouse used synthetic fabrics, neon hues, and striking graphic prints to give his basic shapes visual appeal, contrasting Day-Glo colors with black jersey separates such as t-shirts and minis. Press attention focused primarily on his use of sequins shown on jackets, thigh high boots, and his signature single shoulder strap dresses worn with matching bra tops. The influence of André Courréges and Rudi Gernreich has been obvious in his use of cutout panels revealing parts of the female torso such as the waist or midriff or in his redefinition of that staple of the 1960s male wardrobe, the Nehru jacket, colored hot punk pink by Sprouse in 1985.
Acknowledging the clichés of youthful rebellion, Sprouse toyed with items of subcultural style, which through overuse in popular imagery became mainstream. A prime example of this approach is the motorcycle jacket Sprouse experimented with endlessly, covering it with sequins, 1960s iconography, or pseudoslang. His use of logos, which seemed to be making reference to some magical teenage argot, bemused audiences in 1988 when the meaningless phrase "Glab Flack" was emblazoned over clothes shown on the catwalk.
Arguably his best work, as worn and publicized extensively by Debbie Harry, was the collection in 1983 on which Sprouse collaborated with celebrated New York graffiti artist Keith Haring to produce Day-Glo prints of hand-painted scribbles, imagery lifted straight from the subway walls. Matching outfits of miniskirts and tights or shirts and flares for men made the wearer look as if he or she had been caught full force in the fire of a spray can.
Sprouse's designs were strictly club clothes, street fashion at couture prices as a result of the expensive fabrics, applied decoration, and hand-finishing applied to every garment. Following a 1997 comeback based on Andy Warhol spinoffs, Sprouse's 1998 fashion line thrust fatigue-green hooded capes with orange lining above wide-leg pants and long maxiskirts. He bolstered his showing with matte sequined evening dresses and slim-line tuxedos anchored with Velcro.
With free-flowing chutzpah, Sprouse produced a techno-chic line for fall 1999. During Fashion Week, Sprouse caught the eye of the global fashion in-crowd and rockers such as Axl Rose and Steven Tyler, energized by the designer's high-fashion shoes, 3-D microminis, and unisex pants. Taking his cue from the Mars Pathfinder Rover, Sprouse toned up the runway spectacle with silvered colors, plastic sheen, and imagery from the Warhol catalogue, to which he has exclusive rights. Sprouse outdid himself with a unique application of head gear, paneling, and body computers. According to PR Newswire, he exulted, "I had no idea that the computer industry has advanced to the point that people can be wearing computers. This technology is so cool." In his estimation, the melding of cyber hardware with garments set the tone for the new millennium.
In fall 2000, Sprouse supplied a silver spangled dress to artist E.V. Day for "Transporter," one of her Exploded Couture exhibits. Spotlighted against a marine backdrop at the heart of her show, the gown floated between disks like a celestial mirage. Day slit the fabric to enhance a semblance of earthly beauty absorbed into the cosmos. Valued for his spunky countercultural panache, Sprouse made a palette of world-class luxury items. For 2000, he moved easily from clothes to accessories. Partnering with creative director Marc Jacobs during regular commutes between New York and Paris, Sprouse returned to the Day-Glo graffiti of his 1983 debut to enhance fabrics, prints, handbags, and luggage for Louis Vuitton.
Sprouse freed himself of the retro tag, telling Women's Wear Daily his use of a sprinkling of squiggles and a reinterpretation of LV lettering was not looking back— "I'm more into the present, but I guess the 1980s are the present now. This stuff looks more now to me." Even more demanding than his Paris job was a sizeable painting commission for NASA. At the New York showing of spring 2002 collections, he spackled show tents with his trademark eye-popping fluorescent color.
updated by Mary Ellen Snodgrass
Born in 1953, in Ohio; died of heart failure, March 4, 2004, in New York, NY. Fashion designer. Twenty years after Stephen Sprouse's debut as a fashion designer on New York runways, street culture was regularly invoked as an inspiration at the most luxe of design ateliers. Yet back in 1983, when Sprouse's spray-paint-derived Day-Glo colors took their cue from the subway graffiti that once plagued the New York underground, his vision was light-years ahead. The exuberant designer was a fixture in the New York spheres of music and art as well as fashion, and was a longtime contributor to Interview, the magazine founded by his friend and role model, Andy Warhol. Interview eulogized Sprouse as "a perfect embodiment of the cultural renaissance of the times, when the barriers separating high and low, uptown and downtown, and fashion and art—once as solid and redoubtable as the Berlin Wall—came crashing down and everything from painting to politics came together."
Sprouse was born in Ohio, but grew up in Columbus, Indiana, a semi-rural area. He was entranced by fashion at an early age, and was sketching outfits at the age of nine. His father, a onetime Air Force officer who became a small-appliance business owner, even took him to New York City and introduced him to well-known designers when he was barely in his teens. "I feel lucky that my parents were understanding," Sprouse told People in 1984. "They could have kicked me out on the football field with my brother."
Sprouse was able to land summer jobs on Seventh Avenue, the epicenter of the fashion industry in New York, when he was still in his teens. Formal schooling, however, eluded him: he left the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design after just three months when he was offered a job in New York City with Halston, one of the leading American ready-to-wear designers at the time. He spent three years with the firm, but left in order to explore his creative energies on his own. He dabbled in painting, photography, silkscreen prints, and even hand-colored images with the help of a Xerox machine.
By the mid-1970s Sprouse was working as a band photographer, and as the New York music scene segued from glam rock to the punk scene, Sprouse was living and socializing in the thick of it. He had an apartment in the Bowery, a rather seedy part of Lower Manhattan at the time that was generally home to the near-destitute, and wound up living in the same building as Blondie lead singer Deborah Harry. The clothes he began making for her stage shows were some of his first ready-to-wear pieces. "I've always liked music, art, and fashion," he told New York Times writer Lynda Richardson in 2001. "They all go off to different forks in the road, but they lead to one another."
A loan from Sprouse's ever-supportive family launched his business in earnest, and his first two collections caused a sensation. Some deployed a graffiti print that came thanks to his friend, the tagger-turned-artist Keith Haring, but Sprouse's interest in the printed word came partially as a result of his habit of scribbling phone numbers and reminder notes on his arm in felt-tip pen. He claimed once that he was so nervous when his first collection was about to go down the runway that he wrote the Lord's Prayer backward on his models' clothing. The items—miniskirts and punk-inspired frocks and coats, an updated motorcycle jacket—had a 1960s Pop-Art feel, but with New Wave updating. Sprouse was also fond of the dazzling fluorescent colors favored by subway taggers, and such hot pinks and neon oranges quickly filtered down to mainstream fashion. Though he showed just a few collections on the New York runways during this brief zenith, the clothes were an instant hit and usually sold out in stores within a matter of days.
Sprouse failed to find a good set of business mentors, and struggled for the remainder of his career. After failing to present a collection in 1986, he ventured into retail in 1987, but the New York and Los Angeles venues were shuttered a year later. "It happened so fast. I was in my own little vacuum. I trusted everyone, and then a wall went up," his obituary by WWD writer Lisa Lockwood quoted him as saying. The 1990s were marked by a series of struggles and small successes: he did a line in 1992 exclusively for haute-New York retailer Bergdorf Goodman, and another in 1995 for Barneys New York. He presented a collection at the 1997 New York Fashion Week, and scored a hit in 2000 with the signature graffiti-print limited edition handbag line for Louis Vuitton, a company whose creative director, Marc Jacobs, was an old pal from the punk-rock era. Sprouse's last venture was a special line for Target in 2002 with his exuberant signature graffiti print.
Sprouse had been diagnosed with lung cancer, and was hospitalized not long after he returned from a trip to South America in early 2004. He died of heart failure at the age of 50 on March 4, 2004, in New York City. He is survived by his mother, brother, niece, and three nephews.
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